Anyone for urine?

Written by
7th July 2017

An advocate of urine-rinsing was Pierre Fauchard, known as the father of modern dentistry, who once asked rhetorically: “What won’t one do for tranquillity and health?” Indeed, Pierre, indeed.


I know this thanks to Rachel Bairstow, the British Dental Association (BDA) museum curator, who, supported by volunteers,  had a stand at the BDA conference. There she ran a competition to see if delegates could identify different dental smells. Read on to find out more about the odours which were there for the sniffing.



This is the result of blood sugar levels not being controlled well in a diabetic. If there is insufficient insulin to allow the body to use the glucose in the carbohydrates for energy, the body reverts to breaking down protein for energy. This gives rise to the distinctive scent of pear drops on the breath due to the breakdown of acetic acid into acetone and carbon dioxide which is exhaled from the lungs.

Ketosis may also be produced by a high protein/low carbohydrate diet. Note: Very high levels of ketones in the blood makes it acidic and can cause coma and death.


Trench Mouth:

The term Trench Mouth can be traced back to WWI when it was common for solders to experience severe gum problems due to poor general and oral health from poor nutrition, psychological stress and smoking. Nowadays Trench Mouth is uncommon but those receiving immunosuppression therapy are susceptible.


Oil of Cloves:

Oil of cloves was widely used as a treatment for toothache before more commercial anaesthetics were introduced. It was also mixed with zinc oxide and used as a temporary filling material. It can still be bought from a pharmacy today and applied as an alternative remedy. Its active ingredient is eugenol which gives the plant its well known aroma.



This was discovered in 1832 by chemist Karl von Reichenbach, after he mixed acetic acid and wood tar and found it to be a very effective protein coagulator. The following year he used it to treat toothache. For many years it was used for the mummification of pulps and pulpotomies in deciduous teeth. In recent years, concerns have been expressed regarding its possible carcinogenic properties.



Gargling with one’s own urine every morning continued to be recommended throughout the 17th century. The most renowned advocate of the practise was the French dentist Pierre Fauchard in his work ‘Le Chirurgien Dentiste’ in 1728. He recommended rinsing the mouth morning and evening with one’s own fresh urine for the prevention of caries.



Cherry was one of the favourite toothpastes in the late 19th century. From the 1850s ‘every’ chemist shop was producing their own toothpaste often incorporating chalk, brick and coal dust. But by the 1880s many were including crushed areca nut to give it a fresh flavour as well as carmine for the pink (cherry) colour. Hence the name.



Moulded rubber anaesthetic masks were first used in the 1870s and continued to be used throughout the 20th century; the smell of would be very familiar to any who have had teeth extracted under GA. In 1857 Queen Victoria inhaled Chloroform through a face mask while giving birth to her eighth child, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. However, what material the mask was made of was not recorded.


I understand that by the end of the conference, oil of cloves proved the easiest to identify  and most delegates correctly identified ketosis but trench mouth and urine proved tricky.



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