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Dental History

Dental History Pictures
©Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com

As much as people don’t like the dentist nowadays, things used to be a lot worse!  Take a look at the pictures below to see how far dentistry has come in the past few centuries.

16 Dental History Pictures That Will Make You Love Your Dentist

A Jolly Man with a “Fixed” Missing Tooth

Dr. Shiffman Fixed My Teeth - Dental History

It’s hard to imagine living in an era where people consider their teeth fixed when they are missing.

Teething Trouble?  Give the Kid Some Cocaine & Alcohol

Cocaine Teething and Toothache Drops - Dental History

Many years ago, it was common to give a teething baby all sorts of concoctions to get them to calm down.  My favorite have to be these cocaine drops, followed by Mrs. Winslow’s teething syrup, which would now be illegal for those under 21 years of age!

Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup for Teething Children - Dental History

“Gather ’round, children.  Let’s look at the Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup advertisement again!”

Don’t want to get your baby drunk?  Here’s some natural teething remedies you can try.

Would You Like Your Wisdom Teeth Extracted?

Martyrdom of St. Apollonia - Dental History

This illustration, The Martyrdom of St. Apollonia, shows the torturous extraction of teeth.  I’m glad that this isn’t how my wisdom teeth were removed!

German Traveling Dentist

German Charlatan Dentist - Dental History

In the picture above, a German dental quack, who looks strangely like Captain Hook,  is holding a large tooth that he supposedly extracted from the little midget next to him.  If you look closely, you will see a necklace of extracted teeth hanging over the edge of the table.

His cute little assistant is mixing up a variety of powders and potions that this dentist claims will cure complications from kidney stones and pregnancy.

Traveling French Dentist & His Monkey

French Quack Dentist with Monkey - Dental History

This French dentist proudly displays a tooth that he recently extracted from the gentleman on the right and it would appear he suffered a great deal.

Perhaps as a marketing gimmick, this dentist has a monkey that imitates his every move!

Although your dentist probably wouldn’t extract a tooth without gloves, you should still evaluate your dentist’s infection control program.

18th Century Persian Dentist Tooth Extraction

Persian Dentist Extracting Tooth - Dental History

Here’s an 18th century Persian dentist engaging in the fine art of a gentle tooth extraction.  The gentleness reflects the subtitle of this picture, which was taken from a passage found in the Quran about the need to be kind to your fellow men.

Traveling Dentist in a Dutch Village

Traveling Dentist in Dutch Village - Dental History

I still can’t get over the fact that people used to gather and watch tooth extractions for entertainment.

A Surprifing Toothache Cure

A Surprifing Toothache Cure - Dental History

If this guy had lived in our day, I am willing to bet he’d be all over the TV on infomercials and all over the internet with affiliate websites peddling his “fmall letter” that would cure a toothache.  I can almost hear his voice pronouncing the letter s like the letter f.

A sufferer comes to him saying, “I come to you to get Relief for a moft violent Tooth-Ache.”  The swindler then responds, “My Letter, that fmells fo very pleafant, when delivered is your Relief.”

Interestingly, there are still people like him on the internet that push dangerous, risky, and unproven treatments for toothaches and gum disease.

Backbreaking Work for this Dental Assistant

Russian Dentist - Dental History

I guess they don’t make dental assistants like they used to!  I feel bad for all three, but probably the dentist the most for his poor fashion sense.  I promise, you’ll never sit in my dental chair and see me wearing pants like that!

An Athletic Italian Dentist

Italian Athletic Dentist Pulling Tooth - Dental History

I can’t believe that in 3 ½ years of dental school, my tuition still hasn’t covered a class covering athletic dental extractions.  Hopefully it’s coming up soon.

The next patient appears to be drinking some extra alcohol in anticipation of her extraction.

Curing a Toothache with Fire

Using Fire to Cure a Toothache - Dental History

A suffering patient bends over this brazier fueled by burning seeds.  The fumes from henbane seeds were believed to drive the worm out of the aching tooth.

Yeah, people used to believe that toothaches were caused by worms that burrowed into the tooth and caused pain.  Even if there were worms, it’s more likely that the henbane would’ve killed the person before it killed the worms, since it is now known to be a very toxic plant.

The Japanese Tooth Extraction: Kneeling Method

Japanese Dentist Kneeling to Extract Tooth - Dental History

I’m betting that she is handling the extractions so well because she knows that she’s got not two, but three black, wooden dentures ready for her when she’s done.

Arabic Dentist Cauterizing Dental Pulp With Acid

Arabic Dentist Cauterizing Dental Pulp - Dental History

Here’s an Arabic dentist injecting acid into the dental pulp of a patient.  He uses a protective syringe to keep the acid from burning his hands.

Not sure what dental pulp is?  It’s the nerve of the tooth – Learn more about the anatomy of a tooth.

The Tooth Drawer

Tooth Drawer - Dental History

This is the picture I featured in my article on tooth drawers not too long ago.  This elegantly dressed dentist advertises himself as the dentist to the Great Mogul.  He wanted everyone to know that even royalty subjected themselves to his charming, yet awful dental skills.

The Italian “Oral Surgeon” That Effortlessly Removes Jawbones

Italian Dentist Extracting Jaw - Dental History

I don’t know how people believed this one.  This Italian “oral surgeon” has just pretended to extract an animal’s jaw from his actor-patient.  The crowd stares in amazement, the way the surgeon looks at us through the picture easily tells us that he’s living a lie.

The main theme in a lot of these pictures is having a crowd admire the dentist’s work.  Now that we have YouTube, people have turned away from the dental office when they seek entertainment.


Hopefully these pictures from the history of dentistry will allow you to gain a greater appreciation for your current dentist.  There’s a lot to be grateful for when you think about dentists of today:

  • We don’t stand on you or tie you down to pull your teeth.
  • We don’t travel from town to town with deceitful publicity stunts.
  • We don’t prescribe medications that could cause serious harm to you or your children.
  • We use local anesthetic so you don’t feel the pain of dental work.
  • We don’t try to sell you questionable cures for your problems and base our treatment on scientific evidence.  Well, most of us do!
  • We don’t hold your head over a burning pot of flames to cure your toothache.
  • We can fix teeth, rather than simply extracting them.
  • We wear gloves and use sterile dental equipment.
  • Questions, comments, or concerns?  Please leave a comment in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!

Tooth Drawer Dental History

Imagine living in a remote village 300 years ago.  After suffering with a toothache for weeks, you see an advertisement about a traveling dentist who will be performing in the village square next weekend.  You feel relieved, but somewhat nervous.

Who were these dentists that traveled around the countryside putting on loud, raucous shows whereever they went?

They were known simply as tooth drawers (pronounced draw-ers).

The Tooth Drawer

Tooth DrawerThe tooth drawer would generally travel to different villages and set up shop temporarily.  Usually a tooth drawer would set up a stage with lots of decorations as you can see in the picture above.

Many people had to be in extreme pain before they would dare go to a tooth drawer.  Tooth drawers ended up getting a bad reputation because many of them weren’t very good dentists and simply craved fame and attention.  Also, as you can see in the picture above, someone was picking the pocket of the tooth drawer’s patient.

On stage, they would act like they were great dental surgeons, but they often did this by tricking their audience.

How The Tooth Drawer Would Trick the Audience

Once a tooth drawer set up shop in a town, they would call someone from the audience who was suffering from a toothache.  The tooth drawer actually planted actors in the audience who would pretend to be suffering from a toothache.

After calling the actor up, the tooth drawer would pretend to extract the painful tooth and the patient would then cough out a bloody tooth.  In reality, the tooth drawer would give his actor an extracted tooth with blood on it and tell him to cough it out.  The actor would then exclaim, “I didn’t feel a thing – Thank you for taking me out of pain!”

After the tooth drawer finished with his actor, he would call another toothache sufferer up.  Those who really had a toothache would scream in agony at the tooth drawer’s rough methods.  Unfortunately, by this point, the crowd would be so loud and rowdy that nobody noticed how much suffering the tooth drawer was causing.

Was Every Tooth Drawer Dishonest?

Not every tooth drawer was dishonest.  There were some that truly wanted to help people get out of pain.  The problem was that way back then, nobody knew about local anesthesia.  Nobody knew that teeth could be saved by doing root canals.  The main problem was that there was simply a lack of scientific knowledge in the field of dentistry.

In her book Tooth Worms & Spider Juice, Loretta Ichord states, “Even the honest tooth drawers had limited skills and were capable of tearing large pieces of bone off with a tooth, breaking jaws, and causing facial deformities.”

If you take anything away from this article, I hope that you’ll realize that dentists aren’t as scary as they used to be.  With modern technology, your visit to the dentist no longer has to be painful or dangerous.  And by the way, with the HIPAA privacy act as one of your dental patient rights, you no longer have to worry about dozens of spectators coming to watch you during your dental visit like in the picture below.  Thanks for reading!

Tooth Drawer

Top Image “Le Mal De Dente” by Charles Aubry

Dental History Museum
©Derek L Miller/Shutterstock.com

You know how when you go on vacation, there’s always that one place that stands out as the pinnacle of your trip? Well, today was one of the high points of our vacation for me.

The National Museum of DentistryNot long ago, I learned about the existence of a National Museum of Dentistry located in Baltimore, Maryland. Since I’m currently on vacation with my family in Maryland, I thought it would be a great place to visit.

We parked a few blocks away in what appeared to be a rough section of downtown Baltimore.  We ran into some interesting people on our way to the National Museum of Dentistry, but once we arrived, it was worth it!

We brought our young children with us and were surprised to find that there were several small exhibits geared toward children.  There was a pretend dental office for role playing, an area with many children’s books about visiting the dentist, and a coloring station.  With the help of these exhibits, we were able to stay in the museum longer than we might have been able to otherwise.

The museum is relatively small, but the exhibits are fairly comprehensive.  There were interesting historical tidbits as well as information about the importance of dental hygiene and avoiding harmful substances.  For a dental fanatic like me, this place was intriguing to say the least.  Here’s a small sample of the many things that I was able to see today.

Pictures from the National Museum of Dentistry

Pointed Teeth Bantu Indian Tribe

This friendly looking man above is actually a sculpture (I know, he almost looks real.) Anyways, he was a member of the Bantu Indian tribe in Africa. They used to file down their front teeth in an attempt to look intimidating to those around them.

Old Toothpaste at the Dental Museum
Here’s a bunch of old toothpaste containers that were on display. It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come in this area.

Old Dental Toy Game
Supposedly, this dental toy was supposed to inspire young minds to become dentists when they grew up. Perhaps this toy was the reason that there were so many dentists that graduated during the 1970s.

George Washington's Teeth
These teeth are replicas of George Washington’s dentures.  It turns out that they really weren’t made of wood, but ivory.

G.V. Black - The Father of Modern Dentistry
Here is a replica of G.V. Black’s dental office.  For those of you who aren’t aware, G.V. black is considered the “Father of Modern Dentistry.”  I was tempted to jump over the barricade and go put my arm around him for a photo, but he didn’t seem very personable – I couldn’t even get him to crack a smile.

Fluoride at the National Museum of Dentistry
This post wouldn’t be complete without a picture of some fluoride.  The photo on the left proves that fluoride is cockroach poison.  The upper right photo is a bottle of stannous fluoride that dentists used in the 1950’s in a study.  The photo at the bottom left is an at-home water fluoridation unit that households could purchase to fluoridate their own water.

Was the National Museum of Dentistry Worth It?

I really enjoyed the National Museum of Dentistry.  I learned a lot and they had a lot of interactive displays that kept me engaged.

You might think that this museum would only be fascinating to someone who works in the dental field, but anyone who enjoys history would probably find it fascinating.  So if you’re a history buff, you’d probably enjoy taking a trip to the National Museum of Dentistry if you’re ever in the Baltimore area.

Do you have any questions or comments about the National Museum of Dentistry?  Go ahead and leave them in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading!