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Thursday 3 December 2015

'A Tooth Amiss'

Charles Brock illustration for Emma.
A London dentist in the 18th century. 
If you had a ‘tooth amiss’, like Harriet Smith in Emma (published 200 years ago this year), you would consult a dentist (if in staying in town) or a ‘tooth-drawer’. Local barbers would pull out rotting teeth, too. 

But if living in the countryside, you may have had to resort to the local blacksmith to have your teeth extracted.
If you required new teeth, you could buy a set of the new ‘mineral’ (porcelain) teeth from France.

Or your dentist might equip you with ‘Waterloo teeth’ - dentures of human teeth extracted from the soldiers’ bodies strewn across the battlefield. 

Teeth were also harvested from corpses (the fresher the better) supplied by the ‘resurrection men’, as grave-robbers were jocularly known.

‘Resurrection men’ illegally dug up freshly buried corpses from graveyards to supply surgeons with bodies so that they could practise their dissection skills. Their depredations were so notorious that watchmen were employed to guard churchyards overnight. 

Watchtower, Eyemouth, Scotland.
To keep their teeth clean, Regency ladies used tooth-powder made from charcoal or coconut shells.‘Ashes of tobacco’ were said to ‘make the teeth white’, but were deemed ‘too indelicate’ for ladies’ use (Lady’s Magazine, September 1775).  
Toothpicks made from goose quills, or ivory, or precious metals like gold and silver helped to keep teeth clean after meals. In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood sisters were detained for some time at Gray’s (the jeweller’s) in Sackville St while gentleman Robert Ferrars hesitated over choosing a toothpick case: ‘At last the affair was decided.  The ivory, the gold, and the pearls, all received their appointment; and the gentleman having named the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick-case, drew on his gloves with leisurely care and … walked off with a happy air of real conceit and affected indifference’. 

Charles Brock illustration courtesy of Mollands. 'A London Dentist' courtesy Library of Congress.
Photo of Eyemouth watch tower © Sue Wilkes.

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