The influence which the teeth are capable of exercising on the personal appearance is usually known and admitted.The teeth have formed especial objects of attention, in connection with the toilet and cosmetic arts, from almost the earliest ages of the world to the present time. History and tradition, and the researches of archæologists among the remains of the prehistoric nations of the East, show us that even dentistry may trace back its origin to a date not very long subsequent to the “confusion of tongues.”
We are told that the ancient Welsh took particular care of their teeth, by frequently rubbing them with a stick of green hazel and a woollen cloth. To prevent their premature decay, they scrupulously avoided acid liquids, and invariably abstained from all hot food and drink.
Europeans pride themselves on teeth of pearly whiteness; but many Asiatic nations regard them as beautiful only when of a black color. The Chinese, in order to blacken them, chew what is called “betel” or “betel nut,” a common masticatory in the East. The Siamese and the Tonquinese do the same, but to a still greater extent, which renders their teeth as black as ebony, or more so. As the use of the masticatory is generally not commenced until a certain age, the common practice is to stain the teeth of the boys and girls with a strong preparation of it, on the former attaining the age of ten or twelve.
Keeping the lips apart and breathing through the mouth instead of the nose, and, particularly, sleeping with the mouth open, are habits which are very prejudicial to the teeth and gums. In this way the mouth forms a trap to catch the dust and gritty particles floating in the atmosphere, which soon mechanically injure the enamel of the teeth by attrition.
On the subject of cleanliness in connection with the teeth and mouth, it may be said that the mouth cannot be too frequently rinsed during the day, and that it should be more particularly so treated after each meal. Pure cold water is the best for the purpose. It not only cleans the teeth and mouth, but exerts a tonic action on the gums, which warm water, or even tepid water, is deficient in. When cold water cannot be tolerated, tepid water may be employed, the temperature being slightly lowered once every week or ten days until cold water can be borne. Every one who abhors a fœtid breath, rotten teeth, and the toothache, would do well to thoroughly clean his teeth at bedtime, observing to well rinse the mouth with cold water on rising in the morning, and again in the day once, or oftener, as the opportunities occur. With smokers, the use of the toothbrush the last thing at night is almost obligatory if they value their teeth and wish to avoid the unpleasant flavor and sensation which teeth fouled with tobacco smoke occasion in the mouth on awakening in the morning.
As to tooth powders or pastes to be used with the brush, the simplest are the best. Plain camphorated chalk, with or without a little finely powdered pumice stone or burnt hartshorn, is a popular and excellent tooth powder. It is capable of exerting sufficient friction under the brush to ensure pearly whiteness of the teeth without injuring the enamel, whilst the camphor in it tends to destroy the animalcula in the secretions of the mouth, whose skeletons or remains constitute, as we shall presently see, the incrassation popularly called “tartar.” Recently-burnt charcoal, in very fine powder, is another excellent tooth powder, which, without injuring the enamel, is sufficiently gritty to clean the teeth and remove the tartar from them, and possesses the advantage of also removing the offensive odor arising from rotten teeth and from decomposing organic matter. The charcoal of the heavy hardwoods, as lignum-vitæ, boxwood, oak, are the best; and these, as to quality, range in the order given. Still more valuable as a dentifrice is areca nut charcoal, which, besides possessing the properties of the other vegetable charcoals in an eminent degree, has valuable ones peculiar to itself.
Some dentists, and some persons in imitation of them, in order to whiten the teeth, rub their surfaces with hydrochloric acid, somewhat dilute; but the practice is a most dangerous one, which, by a few repetitions, will sometimes utterly destroy the enamel and lead to the rapid decay of all the teeth so treated. Should the teeth be much discolored, and ordinary tooth powder prove ineffective, a little lemon juice used with the brush will generally render them perfectly white. It should only be employed occasionally, and the mouth should be well rinsed with water afterwards. A little of the pulp of an orange, used in the same way, is also very effective and safe, as are also ripe strawberries, which may be either rubbed on the teeth with the fingers or applied with the brush. The last form, perhaps, the very best natural dentifrice known. Besides possessing singular power in whitening and cleaning the teeth and rapidly removing tartar, they destroy the offensive odor of rotten teeth and impart an agreeable fragrance to the breath.
The importance of a judicious attention to the teeth, in connection with health, cleanliness, and personal comfort and appearance, cannot be too often alluded to and enforced.
It is no exaggeration to say that, taking the whole community, there are few, very few, who clean their teeth, or even wash their mouths, once a day. With the masses the operation, if performed at all, is confined to the Sabbath day, or to holidays; whilst refined, educated, and cleanly persons regard the operation of cleaning the teeth as a daily duty, as necessary as washing the face and hands. The dirty and vulgar—the two words are here synonymous—wholly neglect it, and too often even consider it as unnecessary, effeminate, and absurd. The consequences of the careless performance, or the neglect, of this really necessary personal duty are not long in being developed. Passing over the degradation of the other features, the offensiveness of the breath, often to a degree which renders the individual uncompanionable, and the unfavorable impression which, like other marks of uncleanliness, they convey of the taste and habits of their possessor, as the immediate effects of habitually neglected and dirty teeth, let us look at the more distant, but not less certain, ones:—
In cases of ordinary toothache, even severe ones, chewing a small piece of really good pellitory will often give relief in a few minutes. Chewing a piece of strong, unbleached Jamaica ginger will often do the same in light cases. The celebrated John Wesley recommended a “few whiffs” at a pipe containing a little caraway seed mixed with tobacco as a simple and ready means of curing the toothache. I can bear testimony to the fact that in some cases it succeeds admirably.
Scarcely anything is more disagreeable, and in marked cases, more disgusting, than fœtid breath. It is unpleasant to the person that has it, and it renders him unfit for the society of others. The cause of stinking breath may generally be traced to rotten teeth, diseased stomach, or worms. When the first are the cause, the teeth should be thoroughly cleansed and then “stopped” in the manner already indicated; or, when this is impracticable, the offending tooth, or teeth, may be removed and replaced by artificial ones. When this cannot be done, or is inconvenient, the evil may be greatly lessened by the frequent use of an antiseptic tooth powder, areca nut charcoal or camphorated chalk. Dirty teeth, even when quite sound, always more or less taint the breath. When a foul or a diseased stomach is the cause, mild aperients should be administered; and if these do not succeed, an emetic may be given, scrupulous cleanliness of the teeth being observed, as in the former case. When worms are the cause, worm medicine, under medical direction, will be necessary.