General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Apr 2021/3 Alligator
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Tooth infection among the Aztecs; Florentine Codex Book 10

Advanced Aztec Medicine (2): Dentistry

This is the second in a series of entries based on information in the Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield (Facts on File, 2002). This image from the Florentine Codex shows a Mexica man with a tooth infection (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.)

Cleaning the teeth; Florentine Codex Book 10. Note the charcoal...!
Cleaning the teeth; Florentine Codex Book 10. Note the charcoal...! (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Mesoamerican dentists performed tooth extractions and filled cavities. They also set decorative dental inlays... in the front teeth. After treating a dental condition, the ancient American Indian dentists made a saline, or salt, solution to use as a mouth rinse -something that is done today.
’Aztec dentists, who were called tlantonaniztli in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, developed standard prescriptions for preventing halitosis [bad breath] and tooth decay as well as gum lesions [cuts] and inflammations. They were able to identify the fever blister and treated this condition with herbal remedies as well. They were also able to develop chewable dentrifices [teeth cleaners] and a type of toothbrush that contained astringent [to shrink gaps] properties, and they instructed patients on the use of the toothpick, or netlantataconi.

The teeth in one of the British Museum’s Aztec turquoise mosaic masks
The teeth in one of the British Museum’s Aztec turquoise mosaic masks (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The Spanish conquistadores were impressed by the sophistication of Aztec dental practices. In 1571 King Philip II dispatched Francisco Hernández, a physician, to document the medicinal seeds, plants and herbs he could find there. In 1790 Casimiro Gomez Ortega reviewed his works and found eight references to the treatment of halitosis, 10 references to oral hygiene, and 49 plants used for the prevention of dental caries, or tooth decay. In contrast, Western dentists did not understand preventative dentistry until the mid-18th century and did not stress it until the 20th century.’

Picture sources:-
• Images 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
• Turquoise mask photo scanned from Aztec Art by Esther Pasztory, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1983, p.267 (original in the British Museum).

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Nov 07th 2017

IN THE NEWS: ‘Tooth place’

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