General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 28 Jan 2020/11 Jaguar
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Badianus Manuscript text on the cleaning of teeth

Dental and oral hygiene were taken seriously...

‘Judging from the numerous references to the care of the teeth, the early Mexican paid considerable attention to their condition. Foreign substances were removed from the teeth with thorns or small pieces of wood. In the Badianus manuscript [illustrated] we have a reference to the use of ashes (as a fine abrasive) and white honey, which were applied to the teeth and then the teeth were polished with a cloth. The Sahagún manuscripts give further details in regard to the care of the teeth...’ (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Teonochtli (‘divine-cactus’): Badianus Manuscript plate 28 (L), drawing from ‘Historia Natural de Nueva España’ by Francisco Hernández (R)
Pic 1: Teonochtli (‘divine-cactus’): Badianus Manuscript plate 28 (L), drawing from ‘Historia Natural de Nueva España’ by Francisco Hernández (R) (Click on image to enlarge)

Plates 27 and 28 of the Manuscript - known as the Badianus Manuscript: An Aztec Herbal, 1552, held in the Vatican library and thought to be the oldest known American herbal in existence, contain clear dental hygiene instructions:-
’Unclean teeth are to be polished very diligently; when the tartar has been removed, they must be rubbed with a little cloth smeared with white ashes mixed with white honey so that their elegant brightness and proper gleam will last...
’Weak and decaying teeth are first to be punctured with the tooth of a corpse. Then the root of a tall shrub named teonochtli [’divine-cactus’] is to be crushed and burnt with a stag’s horn, these precious stones yztacquetzallitztli [white jade], chichiltic tapachtli [red coral shell], and a little of roughly-ground flour is to be heated with salt. All these are to be wrapped in a cloth and pressed a few times on the teeth, especially on those that show damage from decay or the unpleasantness of pain. Finally, white incense and the kind of salve we call xochiocotzotl [liquidambar] are to be burnt on embers, and a thick wad of cotton is to be filled with the fumes and then be put frequently against the cheek, or rather is to be tied on, which is better.’

Pic 2: Dental hygiene, Aztec style; Florentine Codex Book 10. The Spanish text reads ‘Paragraph 5, on the teeth, molars and tusks...’
Pic 2: Dental hygiene, Aztec style; Florentine Codex Book 10. The Spanish text reads ‘Paragraph 5, on the teeth, molars and tusks...’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The commentary to these plates, by Emily Walcott Emmart (quoted above in the introductory paragraph) goes on:-
’The teeth were cleaned after each repast [meal] and the mouth was rinsed with cold water. A mixture of salt, alum, chile and cochineal was used as a polish... A root known as the tlatlauh(e)capatli served as a brush, and a powder from a bark known as quauhteputztli was used with water, wine and incense as a dentifrice [toothpaste]. To prevent the accumulation of tartar on the teeth, charcoal and salt water were used as a wash - a remedy which was familiar in this country [USA] before the manufacture of modern dentrifices.’

Source:-
The Badianus Manuscript (Codex Barberini, Latin 241) Vatican Library An Aztec Herbal of 1552, introduction, translation and annotations by Emily Walcott Emmart, The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1940.

Picture sources:-
• Main and pic 1 (L): images scanned from our own copy of the Badianus Manuscript (above)
• Pic 1 (R): illustration scanned from La Odontología en el México Prehispánico by Samuel Fastlicht, self-published, Mexico City, 1971
• Pic 2: Image from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Dec 12th 2019

emoticon Ode to Mexica oral hygiene (Aztec limerick no. 12) -
First step in their dental health charter
Was to remove from the teeth all the tartar.
Burnt ‘divine-cactus’ plant
Meant feeling pain: you just can’t...
No more being a toothache pain martyr!

‘Aztec advances (8): tartar removal’

Study some examples of herbal remedies in the Badianus Manuscript...
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