Dr. Ptah Bes to a Patient, c. 3150 BCE

By the Mighty Arms of Horus, I’ve never seen such plaque!

Dear Wakhashem,

Having completed my analysis of the sketches of your teeth, I’ve come to some interesting conclusions. First, congratulations on having 21 teeth left. Most people who get hit in the face with a pyramid capstone don’t end up so lucky. At first, I thought your toothache was due to getting smashed with a giant slab of limestone, but looking deeper, it may be something else entirely. The holy dentists I’ve consulted with believe that either your tooth has been cursed by the snake goddess Unut, or that one of your enemies has sicked Petbe, God of Revenge, on you for not returning that shovel.

Since these are two completely different situations, there are two different cures. For a standard snake goddess curse, you have to bath your sore tooth in the holy waters of the Nile under the supervision of a high priest at dawn. Then, you’ll need to bath with just a dab of crocodile blood before dumping a pile of sand of your head. As always, make sure no women have touched the sand you’re using!

If it’s a curse of Petbe, you’ll need to come back to my office in the temple. The cure for this one is a bit weird. Basically, you’ll sit in a chair, while i jab at your teeth and gums with sharp instruments. First, I’ll just be scraping the teeth with sharpened reeds, then I’ll move on to stabbing between your teeth with a fishhook at the end of a stick. When you start to bleed (and believe me, you’re going to bleed like a stuck hippo), we will ritually rinse your mouth out with water and mint leaves. Then you’ll split into a bowl. After about 5 minutes, you’ll be covered in blood and spit. I know it sounds barbaric, but that’s what the scrolls say.

Obviously, if you haven’t borrowed a shovel recently, you’ll need to start hunting for some crocodile blood. Otherwise, please contact my receptionist to set an appointment. I’ll be blessing my pointed sticks.


Dr. Ptah Bes, D.A.E.D.S


This earliest recorded existence of dentistry in the Western World (the Chinese were of course cleaning teeth from 10,000 B.C.E. on) is a reminder that in every age, dentists have been sadists who take pleasure in the pain of others. The insistence of Dr. Bes that the patient will “bleed like a stuck hippo” is an ancient warning that dentists must be kept in check, which is of course why dental hygienists–originally government-trained spies–were invented during the Victorian Era. Chillingly, the dentist above makes no mention of gauze.

Other than that, the letter builds a case for the Egyptian’s high regard for promptness, especially when returning things that have been borrowed. It was King Tut’s ongoing possession of a Papyrus Magazine article about crocodile tracking that eventually led the owner of the magazine, a certain Neferet Bast, to curse his tomb and anybody who entered it. That was during the Golden Age of Curses (c. 4000-500 BCE), when people were putting curses on each other for acts as seemingly harmless as not putting in a new trash bag when they took the garbage out.

Over time, cursing one’s own teeth became a popular pastime, when ancient dentists introduced the concept of the free toothbrush and “goody bag,” a weak incentive for the pain patients would undergo in their hands.

Archaeologists are considering if a torture chamber uncovered at Alexandria might actually be a Ptolemaic Era orthodontist’s office.


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