In Tontine, the new Diamond & Doran mystery out this summer, teeth play a vital part in the mystery, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t set my teeth on edge researching that part of the plot. But in doing the research I discovered that not only is dentistry not a modern thing, but advertising for it has been around a long time too.
During the 19th century, especially towards the end, oral hygiene was becoming highly commercial. More and more dental practises erupted in cities like Chicago and the fierce competition for consumers molars and moolah was beginning to bite.
In earlier centuries things were even worse. While myth had it that George Washington had false teeth made of wood, this isn’t true. More horrifying is the reality that he had dentures made from an assortment of horse and other animal teeth. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than the practise of the locals pulling out the teeth of dead soldiers, after the defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo, to sell them to the rich so they could have dentures made from the teeth of heroes. Waterloo teeth were apparently highly sought after, though how you could verify your new pearly whites were snatched from the mouths of bona fide heroes is anyone’s guess.
Having to read old magazines in the waiting room seems a small price to pay for the wonders of modern dentistry. There’s no doubt it has come a long way since the days when any Painless Potter itinerant character could roam around with a pair of pliers in their back pocket offering to pull teeth at a nickel a shot. And I for one am thankful for that.
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