Pirate Dentistry

Why is it that the pirates we see either in movies, on tv or in books we read all seem to have bad teeth? Have you ever thought about why? Let us learn more about pirates and their teeth and maybe we will even learn a few lessons that will help us take care of our own teeth!

Yaaarrr Scurvy! Sickness on the High Seas

“The pirate’s life for me” was not always the case. Although often thought of as a life full of adventure, partying and discovery on the high seas, sailing also took a long time (much longer than travel by car or plane). Since sailing was so slow, pirates would be at sea for many months, making life both boring and disgusting.

Pirates were only able to buy and trade for fresh food and drinks when they landed but since they did not have refrigerators or freezers on their ships, they had to eat their fresh foods quickly or they would get moldy and go bad. When a ship had been at sea for months at a time, chances are the only food pirates had left by that time were stale crackers covered in beetles (weevils). Ew!

Not being able to get enough good food, pirates got sick. Scurvy was cause by not eating enough vitamin C which is found in citrus foods like lemons, limes and oranges. When a pirate’s teeth started falling out, he had pale skin and fat legs and had to keep running to the bathroom, he knew he had scurvy. If a pirate only had an upset stomach and had to keep going to the bathroom, he probably had dysentery. By eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, we can maintain the balanced diet pirates were unable to and avoid looking like pirates!

Gangrene was another common pirate disease that made life on the high seas less than fun. If a pirate got a cut, sometimes it would get infected and the skin around it would die. The only way to keep him alive was to cut off the arm or leg that was infected, which caused pirates to commonly have peg or wooden legs.

Yellow Fever was yet another disease pirates faced. With all these diseases you can see why brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups were not a priority on a pirate ship. Yellow Fever came from mosquitoes and gave the pirate a very high fever. While some pirates got better, others threw up black blood and died.

Pirates Did Not Brush Their Teeth!

The toothbrush that we use today was not invented until 1938; long after pirates sailed the seven seas.

If pirates ever did clean their teeth it would have been using a “chew stick” which was not a very effective way to keep teeth clean and free of plaque. Today, however, we have a lot of options when it comes to toothbrushes of all different sizes and bristle-strengths. By brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, you can keep your teeth in top shape!

Cavities Were Not Taken Care of

Pirates definitely did not make oral care a top priorities when they were out sailing for months at a time. While the modern technology we have today helps dentists find cavities early, pirates only knew they had a cavity once their teeth started to hurt. By that time, the cavity has already started to decay the tooth to where the enamel and dentin have been worn away to expose the sensitive nerves located inside the tooth pulp. This is another reason why regular check-ups with your dentist are important!

There Were No Dentists in Pirate Times!

Today our dentists go to school for many years to learn about our teeth and mouths and how to take proper care of them. During pirate times, a pirate “dentist” was not anything like the dentists we have. The “dentist” on a pirate ship might have also been the cook or the deck swabber or the ship’s gunner. While they probably tried their best to cure their shipmates of their dental problems, they were not properly trained and more often than not resorted to knocking out the tooth that was bothering the pirate. Do not worry about this being the case during your next visit to the dentist though! Times have changed, our dentists are qualified professionals, toothbrushes exist and are readily available as are fresh fruits and vegetables so you do not have to worry about scurvy either!

For more information on pirates and their teeth, sail your browsers over to the following resources:

“Pirates in Print: Seafaring Treasures of the Mandeville Special Collections Library”

Vitamin C (or lack thereof) and Scurvy

The Earliest Pirates?

Scurvy Treatment During the Golden Age of Piracy

Pirates: A Long, Scurvy History

Talk Like a Pirate Day Official Website

Jolly Roger: Pirate History and Flags

Famous Pirates

Pirates’ Booty!

Pirates: Parrot, Hat and Eyepatch Project (DOC)

Why is it that the pirates we see either in movies, on tv or in books we read all seem to have bad teeth? Have you ever thought about why? Let us learn more about pirates and their teeth and maybe we will even learn a few lessons that will help us take care of our own teeth!

Yaaarrr Scurvy! Sickness on the High Seas

“The pirate’s life for me” was not always the case. Although often thought of as a life full of adventure, partying and discovery on the high seas, sailing also took a long time (much longer than travel by car or plane). Since sailing was so slow, pirates would be at sea for many months, making life both boring and disgusting.

Pirates were only able to buy and trade for fresh food and drinks when they landed but since they did not have refrigerators or freezers on their ships, they had to eat their fresh foods quickly or they would get moldy and go bad. When a ship had been at sea for months at a time, chances are the only food pirates had left by that time were stale crackers covered in beetles (weevils). Ew!

Not being able to get enough good food, pirates got sick. Scurvy was cause by not eating enough vitamin C which is found in citrus foods like lemons, limes and oranges. When a pirate’s teeth started falling out, he had pale skin and fat legs and had to keep running to the bathroom, he knew he had scurvy. If a pirate only had an upset stomach and had to keep going to the bathroom, he probably had dysentery. By eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, we can maintain the balanced diet pirates were unable to and avoid looking like pirates!

Gangrene was another common pirate disease that made life on the high seas less than fun. If a pirate got a cut, sometimes it would get infected and the skin around it would die. The only way to keep him alive was to cut off the arm or leg that was infected, which caused pirates to commonly have peg or wooden legs.

Yellow Fever was yet another disease pirates faced. With all these diseases you can see why brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups were not a priority on a pirate ship. Yellow Fever came from mosquitoes and gave the pirate a very high fever. While some pirates got better, others threw up black blood and died.

Pirates Did Not Brush Their Teeth!

The toothbrush that we use today was not invented until 1938; long after pirates sailed the seven seas.

If pirates ever did clean their teeth it would have been using a “chew stick” which was not a very effective way to keep teeth clean and free of plaque. Today, however, we have a lot of options when it comes to toothbrushes of all different sizes and bristle-strengths. By brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, you can keep your teeth in top shape!

Cavities Were Not Taken Care of

Pirates definitely did not make oral care a top priorities when they were out sailing for months at a time. While the modern technology we have today helps dentists find cavities early, pirates only knew they had a cavity once their teeth started to hurt. By that time, the cavity has already started to decay the tooth to where the enamel and dentin have been worn away to expose the sensitive nerves located inside the tooth pulp. This is another reason why regular check-ups with your dentist are important!

There Were No Dentists in Pirate Times!

Today our dentists go to school for many years to learn about our teeth and mouths and how to take proper care of them. During pirate times, a pirate “dentist” was not anything like the dentists we have. The “dentist” on a pirate ship might have also been the cook or the deck swabber or the ship’s gunner. While they probably tried their best to cure their shipmates of their dental problems, they were not properly trained and more often than not resorted to knocking out the tooth that was bothering the pirate. Do not worry about this being the case during your next visit to the dentist though! Times have changed, our dentists are qualified professionals, toothbrushes exist and are readily available as are fresh fruits and vegetables so you do not have to worry about scurvy either!

For more information on pirates and their teeth, sail your browsers over to the following resources:

“Pirates in Print: Seafaring Treasures of the Mandeville Special Collections Library”

Vitamin C (or lack thereof) and Scurvy

The Earliest Pirates?

Scurvy Treatment During the Golden Age of Piracy

Pirates: A Long, Scurvy History

Talk Like a Pirate Day Official Website

Jolly Roger: Pirate History and Flags

Famous Pirates

Pirates’ Booty!

Pirates: Parrot, Hat and Eyepatch Project (DOC)