On July 19th, 1545, 415 men lost their lives aboard Henry VIII’s flag ship, the Mary Rose. It happened during a battle taking place against a French invasion fleet, and actually sank during a tight turn and not due to enemy cannon fire.
In 1982 it was brought up surprisingly intact with almost all the bodies well-preserved, and with most of the ship’s on-board artifacts in a similar well-preserved condition. This amazing find began to give us insight into many facets of everyday Tudor life in the mid-1500’s, from personal effects and tools, to medical equipment and weapons. It also gave up some surprising facts that changed some popular misconceptions about health and dental conditions of the time.
A Surprising Find – Good Teeth
Now when most people picture rough, battle-hardened sailors in that time period, they probably picture them with yellowing, rotten teeth or no teeth at all. However, that stereotype may not be true. Among the 415 bodies found, 25% of the crew had little to no significant tooth decay. In fact, the teeth of these men were in better shape than most modern peoples’.
This has a lot to do with the fact that the average diet in these times contained little to no sugar. Also, with literally nothing in the way of dental equipment aside from rum and pliers, the mere thought of the pain of tooth removal alone was probably a big reason to take care of their teeth.
When abscesses and other dental problems occurred, sickness and extreme pain were soon to follow. This meant, at the very least, a down-turn in productivity from crew members, and in those times and on the high sea, the sick leave benefits package wasn’t very good. Usually men were kicked off the ship at first sign of land, if they weren’t dumped overboard or sent below decks to work in even less favorable conditions than topside.
So, if we take nothing else away from all this, it should be apparent that good dental hygiene is as essential now as it was then. If men aboard a ship with limited knowledge and even more limited resources could maintain a good dental regimen, then so should we.