Got a Bad Case of Toothworms?

Dental history is so interesting to me. I guess it should be since that’s sort of what I do with my life, the dentistry part, anyway. One really bizarre and prevalent belief among European populations is the toothworm. Do you ever feel like there’s something gnawing, chewing, digging around in your teeth when you have a bad toothache? That’s the toothworm. And you’ve got ‘em bad.

Hey, science wasn’t perfect under the Roman Empire, but it got better. Eventually. I found this neat paper on toothworms and how the belief started and circulated among pre-modern populations. I thought you might enjoy it as much as I did!

Now that you’re here, I’d like to ask you a serious question. If you had no idea about the concept of infection and you suddenly developed tooth pain — you know the kind, it’s stabby, it’s pulsating, sometimes it’s even gnawing — would it be a hard leap to believe that you had some sort of chewing critter living in your tooth?

See, that’s what a lot of people who were around before modern dentistry believed, and as awful as a toothache can be, it’s because of infection and irritation, not because of worms. But for these guys, I mean, parasites were sort of a daily battle. If you could have a parasite in your skin, why not your teeth? Thus, the belief of the toothworm got stronger and stronger over the ages, until scientific dentists started scratching their heads and examining teeth more closely.

Here’s I found on the spread of the concept of the toothworm, I thought you might get something from it. After all, we’re still finding better ways to do things — yesterday’s filling techniques might just turn into tomorrow’s toothworm.


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