Three Things to Know about Columbus Day (And much more…)

Categories: Dental Stories
Map from 1540
Map from 1540

1. Christopher Columbus is said to have had only one tooth, which is the reason he never showed a smile in portraits. He may have kept the one tooth, after all his others had gone bad due to poor diet and months at sea and little care available to him, because of regulations stating a soldier had to have at least one tooth so that he could load ammo — as having teeth was required to extract and reload gunpowder in the heat of battle those days. Dental care in the late 1400’s was limited primarily to extraction, as little could be done to heal or mend a decayed tooth. Most people wiped their teeth with a cloth, perhaps dipped in baking soda or sulfur oil, and frayed sticks with which to brush their teeth! Also, one’s diet at sea consisted of many things that were bad for teeth: usually molasses, cheeses and wines, along with biscuits, salted meats, dried peas, and of course fresh fish. If one had a bad tooth at sea, he usually had to wait weeks or months to find a barber, who at the time was basically the village doctor, dentist and barber all rolled into one.

2. America was not really discovered by Columbus! He had only found many island chains nearby including Cuba, the Bahamas, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On his third voyage to the Americas, he explored parts of Central and South America. Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue in 1492, but Columbus did not reach the American mainland until 1498. The most commonly accepted and well documented discovery of America was from an explorer named Amerigo Vespucci, for which the Americas are named. He may have preceded John Cabot’s discovery, a Venetian named Giovanni Chabotte or Zuan Chabotto, who sailed from England, and so his name was anglicized to claim the discovery. Most likely, the Chinese or Vikings discovered the Americas first, that is of course after early man walked across the Bering Straits tens of thousands of years ago.

3. Native Americans today have the same opinions of Columbus that his crew may have had of him back in the 15th century when they threatened mutiny and wanted to throw him overboard during their first voyage to the Americas. Many Native Americans hold the belief that Columbus is unworthy of his celebration, and that Columbus Day should really be Native American Day or something along the lines of reminding Americans that America was not unsettled when discovered by Europeans or others.