Toothpaste Was Far Too Expensive So We Used Soot
Plastic toothbrushes didn’t become available until the late 50’s. Before that toothbrushes had wooden handles and the bristles really were bristles, made of boar hair, if I remember right. They were definitely made from some kind of hog hair.
Toothpaste was available in some of the bigger shops, and it was in the form of powder usually. It had all kinds of stuff in it, but was far too expensive for large families.
We used soot. Every few weeks the range would be allowed to cool down so it could be given a good clear out. It burned better if all the sooty deposits and most of the ash was removed. I’m sure you know that wood burns better on an ash bed, and because of that we would always leave about an inch in the bottom of the fire box.
Collecting the soot was easy – just reach in and scrape it off. I collected it on a tin pie plate and then when I had enough, would spoon it into small tins that used to have mints in them.
For the younger children, I made it into a paste and put it on their brush for them… the brushes were all one size, far too big for children really. The older children would just dip the damp bristles into the soot and that was that.
Their reward was a couple of mint leaves or a chunk of apple to take the sooty taste away.
I didn’t need dentures until about 12 years ago. I’d lost a few teeth over the years, but generally they were very good. A fall in 2002 loosened my front teeth and made eating and drinking uncomfortable so that was that… out they came. It really bothered me, if I am being honest, but it had to be done.
If we had gum problems we would rinse our mouths with strong warmed salt water and, more often than not, that did the trick after a few goes.
Not using what most people call ‘proper’ toothpaste doesn’t seem to have had ill effects on our teeth and gums. In fact, my grandchildren have lost teeth through decay, and had those awful filling things far earlier in life than their parents did. I don’t think that’s just down to the soot, if I am honest. I think the healthy diet with few sweets made more of a difference.
Well, I’m sorry this is a bit short, Tess, but there’s not much more to say about boar hair, toothbrushes and soot toothpaste is there?
Granny Spear was born in a small cottage in Devon, Southern England in 1925. Married to farm labourer Ernest, she raised her family in the heart of the countryside without any of the amenities we rely on today. Using skills passed down from her mother, who had learned those same skills from her mother, she not only survived but positively thrived living a self-sufficient, off grid lifestyle. Outliving her husband, one of her children and two of her grandchildren she stayed in the cottage until 2003 when a serious fall saw her hospitalized. She now lives with her daughter just four miles from her old home. For her 89th birthday her grandchildren and great grandchildren brought her an iPad, which she instantly rejected until they showed her Angry Birds…After much persuasion she has agreed to share some of her knowledge with us about what she calls the ‘old days’
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