Visiting the dentist might not be your favourite thing in the world but once you check out today’s hidden history we guarantee that you will appreciate the skills of modern dentists much more.
The year was 1728 and the science behind the modern practice of dentistry had just been set into motion with the publication of “Le Chirurgien Dentiste” by Pierre Fauchard. Pierre was a self-educated Dental Surgeon who resided in France and, unlike his colleagues, he did not just extract teeth but also removed tartar, benign tumors of the gums, filled teeth and made artificial replacements. Perhaps you would be lucky enough to have a “professional” like Pierre work on your smile, but others were not so fortunate and a barber was all they could afford. These hair grooming professionals were quite often trusted with the delicate work of extracting teeth…… but we’re not sure why.
The sad truth is these professionals were less concerned with dental care, more interested in a quick tooth-yanking for a quick payday. The tools they used were a clear reflection of their approach. Some tooth extractors simply used their fingers (they would practice and strengthen their finger muscles by pulling nails out of boards). Others, the more ‘advanced’ dentists, would use special tools. One of the fancy tools that these qualified individuals had on hand was a Tooth Key (aka Dental Key). Crazily enough the Kings County Museum has ended up with one in the collection.
Yes, we are all afraid of it.
After doing a little research we were able to find out the answer to what you are all thinking – how on earth did that monstrosity work????
The procedure involved in using a tooth key was far from painless or reliable. Once it was determined what tooth was in need of being extracted the ‘dental surgeon’ would place the claw of the tooth key over top of the tooth. The metal rod part of the key was positioned against the root of the tooth and then the key was turned. If everything went as planned turning the key would have been as uneventful as turning the key to your home and walking inside – the tooth and the roots would simply pop out. However, the chances of everything happening as planned weren’t the greatest and more times than not the tooth would shatter as the key turned and then pieces of the tooth and root would then have to be individually yanked from the gums.
As you can imagine this procedure would have left an individual scarred and in desperate need of pain medication (which was in even shorter supply than a good dentist). It is no surprise that many people developed a fear of dentists! Luckily today, modern techniques and treatments have replaced the horrors of the Tooth Key. So go ahead, book that appointment; hop in that dental chair….. and smile!
Want more terrifying details on early dentistry? Check out the attached links that we used for our research. You might not want to do this while sitting in your dentist’s waiting room.
A big thanks to summer staffer Jamie Pearson for writing today’s post (the rest of us were too scared to tackle this one…..)