Alongside an action packed life of looting, treasure hunting, partying, and all round plundering pirates were known to be somewhat lackadaisical about their personal hygiene. It should therefore come as no surprise that their dental health was somewhere near the bottom of their priority list. You’ve seen how they’re portrayed in movies; brown teeth, missing teeth, and general griminess abound!
Why might that be?
Challenges to Pirate Dentistry
Well, the nature of Golden Age seafaring meant that there was no frequent access to supplies like fresh water or fruits; this lack of vital nutrient was one of the really key challenges to the dental health of a pirate. Vitamin C deficiency, in particular, could lead to gingivitis, receding gums, and other severe periodontal diseases (as well as scurvy!).
The dental technology, too, was less than optimum in this era; pirates would have no way to operate on cavities or lost teeth. No regular check-ups here; pain would have been the best indicator that something was going wrong. Even then, there would have been little they could do; they didn’t have the kinds of dental prosthetics that we have now.
Did Pirates Do Anything to Care for Their Teeth?
In all fairness to pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries it would have been hard for them to take care of their teeth in any real sense. This was long before the invention of the modern toothbrush, you must remember, and way before the kind of toothpastes and mouthwashes we have today. This was only compounded by the fact that there was no consistent access to quality, healthy foods whilst at sea.
There are some theories has to how pirates may have cleaned their teeth, however.
Some research suggests that pirates would have used chewing sticks to clean their teeth; these were small twigs that frayed into bristles when chewed, and they certainly removed plaque from certain areas of teeth. They wouldn’t have been useful for cleaning the hard to reach areas behind or between teeth, however.
So you can see that pirates had good reasons for having bad breath.