Louis XIV of France died in at 64. He had been king since the age of five, though an uncle had ruled as regent until he was 23. Ten years later he gained full control of his kingdom upon the death of a powerful cardinal. Louis reign, by all accounts, begat a loss of world power for France, a diluted treasury, and general disillusion with absolute monarchy, leading to revolution 15 years after his death.
He left another tiny but potent legacy, the special mouthwash formulated just for him, a royal swill mixed by his personal doctor to benefit the King’s breadth, good health, and help secure the charms of his various mistresses, including the famed Madame de Pompadour. In 1755, Dr. Julien Botot used a base of gilliflower, from the clove family, added anise, ginger, cinnamon, and stirred the elixir with water, for a brew that warms gums and both freshens and refreshes. His mistresses must have been grateful, as dental hygiene was not yet de-rigeur, even at court.
It takes only a few drops of this elixir in a glassful of warm water to bring your mouth alive. One bottle lasts for months! This original French formula is now made in Italy, with no artificial colors or flavors. The flavor is sharp; I think it tastes like Campari.
Billed as “the World’s First Mouthwash,” the description seems wistful: Research shows that Egyptians of the ancient world made a paste of mint leaves and iris blossoms mixed with salt and pepper for their ancient mouth funk, and that the Romans used a base of human urine for theirs, as the alkali could whiten teeth. Ancient Greeks and Romans mixed pulverized bones and shells into their toothpowder.
And Ziryab – an astronomer, composer, polymath and botanist also known for his remarkable style – encouraged oral hygiene across Islamic Iberia and Northern Africa. An intriguing character, he also apparently changed his clothes hourly, and bathed with equal rigor. But I found no evidence of mouthwash.
I did learn that on the Indian Peninsula, fibrous neem tree branches – like licorice – have been used to brush teeth for centuries, as the twigs split to a bristle. Arab peoples used miswak, a teeth-cleaning twig cut from the arak tree. Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), on the other hand, had a toothbrush with a gold handle.
It was also amusing to learn that tubes of toothpaste (as opposed to tins) were invented in 1892 by a London Dr. Sheffield who took the idea from tubes of paint seen by his daughter, who saw them in Parisian artists' studios on a visit to the city. Colgate and Company of New York City began selling similar in 1896.