Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Tea and Teeth

Sorry I haven’t posted here in a while…as you may know from my Facebook postings at, I have just published my book “Three Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them.” You can get it on createspace or look for it on Amazon.

...and I am in the process of down-sizing, selling my home of nearly 30 years, and moving into a much tinier apartment—so much sorting and choosing what to keep and what to sell and what to give away. So far several hundred books made their way to our local Friends of the Library Book Sale that supports our local library system.

...and yes, I did get a storage unit because there are things I simply can’t part with as yet…saving that step for another time in the hope that my children will want some of it someday.

But I have been reading…and came across an article about teeth blackening by Thomas J. Zumbroich “To Strengthen the Teeth and Harden the Gums - Teeth blackening as medical practice in Asia, Micronesia and Melanesia.” *

This article brought back memories** of reading years ago about black teeth among the Japanese, which was achieved by soaking iron nails in vinegar, then adding green tea powder and coloring the teeth with that mixture at least every few days. The result was the black teeth we see in pre-Meiji era Japanese prints, but also teeth that were far healthier than ours today. The green tea offered fluoride and the iron strengthened the enamel, and together they prevented gum disease, possibly through antibacterial compounds in the tea. 

Geisha blackening her teeth at 1AM, by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi,
number 13 of the series "24 hours in Shinbashi and Yanagibashi."

In shogunate Japan black teeth were considered beautiful and a sign of a woman's sexual maturity, but the opening of Japan to the world and the influx of Western ideas and ideals changed all that in the Meiji era. When a law forbidding the practice was promulgated in 1870,  and  the Empress appeared with white teeth in 1873, teeth blackening died out almost completely. White teeth and the accompanying tooth decay set in.

** In “Medical Botany” by Memory Elvin-Lewis (yes, that’s her name and the pun above was intended). The current edition of this work is Lewis W, Elvin-Lewis MP. (2003) Medical botany: Plants affecting human health. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley Interscience; 812p. BTW, Professor Elvin-Lewis is at my alma mater Washington University, another reason for me to appreciate her delightfully anecdote-rich encyclopedic work.