When the Puritans sat down to the first Thanksgiving, it’s likely many of them were totally toothless. As they lacked dental hygiene technology, Puritans began losing teeth to decay at young ages. By the age of 50, a significant portion of Puritans found themselves without a single tooth. Inability to chew food properly, and thus digest properly, likely contributed to many early deaths and painful digestive disorders.
Puritans didn’t understand that tooth decay was caused by plaque buildup. Cotton Mather, one of the most influential figures in Puritan America, conducted experiments that helped popularize and accelerate the development of inoculations. But his ideas about toothaches were… less impressive. In a July 1681 diary entry, Mather muses about the root cause of his toothache:
“About the Middle of this Month, I lost abundance of precious Time, thro’ tormenting Pains in my Teeth and Jawes; which kind of Pains have indeed produced mee many a sad Hour, in my short Pilgrimage…Have I not sinned with my Teeth?”
Yes, Puritans thought that toothaches were punishments for gluttony, gossip, or lies. While unhealthy eating (especially overindulgence in sweets) does contribute to tooth decay, gossip and lies have never been proven to cause dental disease.
This Thanksgiving, give thanks that you live in a time where quality dental care is readily available. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen us, give us a ring at 207.773.6331 to set up an appointment.