Abingdon-on-Thames is a historic town with a fascinating history, culturally, socially and in terms of the evolution of dentistry. Abingdon began as an Iron Age fortress, with around fifteen hectares of heavily populated settlement land. In this period dentistry was a rising industry. People were aware of dental problems and oral hygiene. Iron pins have been found that were hammered into the teeth of cadavers and covered with a wooden or ivory tooth to make the dead more beautiful. This practice, if performed on someone living, would mean extreme pain and would likely lead to a potentially fatal infection.
Abingdon soon became a small Ancient Roman Town. It is thought that it was not a major settlement town, but rather a port, handling river trade. There were no major roads. At this point in time, dentistry was an expanding profession and highly desirable trade. Roman society was concerned with visual aesthetics of teeth, as well as oral health. The Romans gained their knowledge from the generation of Etruscans that preceded them.They made dentures and bridges out of solid gold while their predecessors crafted them from ivory, using gold bands to hold everything in place.
Abingdon is well known for its Abbey, thought to be the oldest Abbey in England. There is some dispute over when it was built, with some authorities believing it to have been built as early as the Iron Age. William The Conqueror fell in love with the building, celebrating holidays there and even arranging for his son, Henry I, to be educated there. It is thought that during the medieval period the Abbey provided a stable economy and source of income for the town.
Texts from this time reveal much about medieval British dentistry. Dentists were aware of throat and mouth cancers, with evidence of surgical intervention. Most dental issues however, were treated with herbal remedies and charms. Some religious amulets were thought to have healing powers, and were worn to ward off dental problems. In the medieval period toothache was believed to stem from worms in the teeth, which were thought to crawl into the tooth cavity and live there, causing extreme pain and discomfort. This was treated with a herbal powder or paste. It was not until the Renaissance period that dental worms were proven not to exist.
Abingdon flourished during the Industrial Revolution, when new transport links were set in place. Although the town was at first slow to accept the major changes, the opening of the Great Western Railway proved a huge success, and a savior, lifting the town out of the economic doldrums. It was during this period that the term ‘dentist’ was first introduced and used. Prior to this, dentists were doctors or hairdressers. Dentistry was making advancements at this time, with dentures looking more and more realistic, and diagnoses and treatments becoming clearly established. The 18th century saw the invention of the modern toothbrush, and scientists became aware of the relationship between food and teeth, and how certain foods like sugar caused of dental cavities.
Abingdon-on-Thames has flourished since it’s beginning in the Iron Age, with the development of dentistry progressing through history hand in hand with the cultural, social, and economic prosperity of the times.