February 9, 2018: Would You Rather Read in the Bathtub or Celebrate a Toothache?

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A Brief History

On February 9, 2018, we at History and Headlines take a moment to ponder the imponderable: Where do all these “National Days” come from? We found all sorts of references to February 9th being National Toothache Day and also National Read in the Bathtub Day, but no record of when or where these “holidays” started!

Digging Deeper

National Toothache Day is not so ridiculous as to actually celebrate having a toothache, one of the most painful conditions known to humankind (which can also be life threatening), but rather a day to remind people of proper oral hygiene. Toothaches, also known as “odontalgia,” are caused by tooth decay, trauma to the outer enamel (broken tooth), or gum disease. Infection from a tooth problem may have killed more Native Americans than White people with guns ever did. (White people introduced sweets to Native people unused to dealing with decay causing foods. Plus, Native Americans had few dentists…). Back in the (bad) old days, there was only one way to deal with a toothache, and that was to pull the tooth.

Surgical extraction of an impacted molar

Modern dentistry dates back to 1723 when Frenchman Pierre Fauchard published his book, The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth. In the 18th Century root canals with a post inserted in the canal to support a gold crown were invented, but it is unlikely the common person could afford such treatment. Our very own Paul Revere (the Midnight Ride guy) is known to have advertised his services as a dentist, and he apparently made dental appliances such as bridges and dentures. The year 1790 saw the invention of the foot powered dental drill and also the dental chair. The most important dental advance came in 1846 when ether was demonstrated as an anesthetic for use during dental surgery. Other 19th Century milestones included the first schools of dentistry and the use of amalgam fillings. Rubber was first adapted as a base for dentures then as well. Toothpaste in a tube showed up on the dental scene in 1880, and prior to that only liquid or powder concoctions were available.

Modern toothpaste gel

Today we have dental floss, water irrigation devices (Water Pik), electric toothbrushes, fluoridated water and toothpaste, peroxide whitening, lasers and every darn thing under the sun to keep teeth healthy, but people still get toothaches!

On the other hand, instead of reminding ourselves about a painful and often unsightly condition such as toothaches, we can celebrate National Read in the Bathtub Day! Laying back in warm, foamy water with a good book, adding hot water as needed to keep the temperature just right and not being interrupted or distracted from your reading is a great thing. Of course, the downside is looking like a prune when you are done with War and Peace! Another downside I have experienced first hand is dropping my reading material in the tub water. Sometimes this mishap is just an inconvenience, but on at least one occasion it cost me the price of a library book. It pays to be careful, and it pays to not fall asleep while reading!

Which “holiday” would you prefer to celebrate? If you have any tales of interest regarding either toothaches or reading in the tub, feel free to share those tales in the comments.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Lufkin, Arthur Ward. A History Of Dentistry Book. Lea and Febiger, 1948.

Nagel, Ramiel.  Cure Tooth Decay: Heal and Prevent Cavities with Nutrition. Create Space, 2010.

Wynbrandt, James.  The Excruciating History of Dentistry: Toothsome Tales & Oral Oddities from Babylon to Braces. St. Martin’s, 1998. 



About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.