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Traditional Maori Dental Practices:

How Ancient Maori Maintained Oral Health

In the fascinating realm of oral hygiene history, the traditional practices of the Maori people of New Zealand offer a unique perspective on dental care before the advent of modern dentistry. The Maori, known for their rich cultural heritage, had distinct methods of maintaining oral health that were closely intertwined with their natural environment and lifestyle.

Natural Tools and Techniques Unlike today's array of toothbrushes and toothpaste, the Maori utilized natural resources to clean their teeth. One of their primary tools was the chewing stick, similar to those used by many ancient cultures. These sticks, often made from twigs of specific trees, were chewed on to clean the teeth and stimulate the gums. The twigs' fibrous nature helped mechanically remove food particles and plaque.

Dietary Influence on Dental Health The traditional Maori diet played a significant role in oral health. Their diet predominantly consisted of natural foods, including seafood, vegetables, and the native sweet potato known as 'kumara.' The absence of processed sugars and refined foods in their diet meant lower incidences of tooth decay compared to post-colonial times when more Westernized diets were adopted.

Herbal Remedies for Oral Care The Maori also had a profound knowledge of medicinal plants, some used for oral care. Various herbs were known for their antiseptic properties and were used to treat gum disease and toothaches. These herbal remedies were a part of their dental care and a reflection of their deep connection with nature.

Cultural Practices and Oral Health Oral health is more than just a functional aspect of Maori culture; it also has a social and aesthetic dimension. The teeth were essential to their traditional facial tattoos or 'moko', a key aspect of Maori identity and social status. The maintenance of good oral health, therefore, had cultural significance beyond mere hygiene.

Lessons from the Past The dental practices of the ancient Maori, rooted in simplicity and a holistic approach, provide an intriguing contrast to modern dentistry. Their reliance on natural methods and a healthy diet highlights the importance of preventive care in oral health. In today's world, where dental issues are often linked to lifestyle choices and environmental factors, revisiting these traditional practices offers valuable insights.

In conclusion, the traditional dental practices of the Maori people are a testament to their resourcefulness and deep understanding of the natural world. By harmonizing their dietary habits and natural remedies with their cultural values, they maintained oral health effectively, paving the way for a holistic approach that modern dentistry can learn from.


Throughout history, people have gone to great lengths to maintain oral hygiene, often employing methods that might seem bizarre to us today. This blog post will take you on a fascinating journey through some of the most unusual and, at times, cringe-worthy methods people have used to clean their teeth in the past.

1. Chewing Sticks

Long before the advent of the toothbrush, ancient civilizations like the Babylonians and Egyptians used "chewing sticks." These were twigs with frayed ends used to scrub the teeth. Surprisingly, this method was somewhat effective and is a precursor to the modern toothbrush.

2. Powdered Mouse Skulls

In Ancient Egypt, a dental concoction that might make you squirm was used: powdered mouse skulls. This unusual ingredient was believed to be effective in treating toothaches and keeping the mouth clean.

3. Urine Mouthwash

Yes, you read that correctly. Both the Romans and Greeks used human and even animal urine as mouthwash. The ammonia in urine was thought to cleanse and whiten teeth. This practice was actually somewhat effective, given the ammonia’s cleaning properties, but it's certainly not something we'd recommend today!

4. Crushed Bone and Oyster Shells

Before the invention of modern toothpaste, people often used a mixture of crushed bones and oyster shells. These ingredients were ground into a fine powder and used to scrub the teeth. The abrasive nature of this concoction helped remove plaque but could also damage the enamel.

5. Salt and Charcoal Rubs

In some cultures, salt and charcoal were used as a dental scrub. This mixture was abrasive enough to clean the teeth but, like bone and shell powder, could wear down tooth enamel over time.

6. Brick Dust and Crushed Rock

In Medieval Europe, people sometimes resorted to using brick dust, crushed rock, or even burnt bread as tooth-cleaning agents. These harsh materials were effective at scraping off debris but often caused significant damage to the teeth.

7. Bird Droppings

In Elizabethan England, there was a rather unsettling practice of using bird droppings as a teeth whitener. This is one historical tooth-cleaning method that definitely did not stand the test of time!

8. Tobacco Toothpaste

In the 18th and 19th centuries, tobacco was sometimes included in toothpaste and powders. It was falsely believed to freshen breath and clean teeth, ignoring the severe health risks associated with tobacco use.


These historical practices highlight the lengths to which people have gone to maintain dental hygiene, albeit in some unconventional ways. Thankfully, modern dentistry and oral care have come a long way since the days of urine mouthwash and crushed bones. Today, we have many safe, effective, and (thankfully) more appealing options for keeping our teeth clean and healthy. While these ancient methods are fascinating from a historical perspective, they remind us to be grateful for our minty toothpaste and soft-bristled toothbrushes!


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