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It’s official, I’m putting down my roots! I finally have a local dentist. Interestingly, the dentist is one of the first necessary medical practitioners people choose upon moving to a new town. I still haven’t acquired a General Practitioner, a Lady Doctor, nor an Audiologist (because I’m basically Deaf, remember?). Those are on my To-Do List.

So far, I like Dr. Steve. He was impressed with my teeth and confirmed, yes, I have a little mouth. Heh. The irony, really. As a result of this smallness, eight teeth have been extracted over the years. The overcrowding necessitated the wearing of braces (and a head-gear at night!–Talk about cruel and unusual punishment!) Back as a pre-teen, I wore braces, hearing aids, and “coke-bottle glasses.” . . . I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

I still have a retaining bar behind my lower front teeth. When I pressed Dr. Steve if there is any chance it will be removed, he gave me his honest assessment. The short answer is “no.” The long answer has to do with ‘muscle and tendon memory.’ The body will always try to go back to the way it was. Thusly, the teeth will move again if the bar is taken out. Well, that. . .  is not what I wanted to hear . . .

The people of the 19th century had it far worse. FAR worse. Odd as it may seem, the dental health declined as the industrial revolution took hold. More people moved away from the country farms and their fresh foods. As with most medical issues, the idea of preventative medicine was unheard of. However, the military recruits had such terrible teeth issues that were often released from service (or weaseled their way out of it) because it was consider just another debilitating injury, as anyone with a tooth ache or worse can attest! In England at the end of the Victorian era there was a census taken of children’s teeth and unsurprisingly the results were dismal.

Poorer children could not afford any dental care although they tended to eat coarse food rather than more acid producing foods which led to decay. Wealthier children from the middle and upper classes could choose from a number of items for cleaning their teeth and mouths.

Said instruments were not without their own problems. Danger lurked at every turn! From the animal hair bristles which trapped germs. Or if the whole family shared the same toothbrush.–Sure we gag at the mere thought, but they didn’t know. As I am sure years from now our descendants will shudder at our way of life and exclaim “That’s disgusting! What were they thinking?!”–The toothpaste used was also damaging to the teeth since it often included abrasive charcoal, brick, chalk dust or crushed egg shells to get rid of plaque.

A First Visit to the Dentist by Edward Huges, c. 19th century

While the wealthy could afford a dentist, there were not enough dentists to meet the need. There was roughly one dentist for every 8,000 citizens during the late 19th century England. However, even if they could afford it, many chose not to seek them out for obvious reasons. So some just tried to “fix it themselves” or rely on a friend. . .  this never bodes well. If a tooth needed to be pulled, they would visit the doctor who was far more affordable (or the blacksmith or the butcher) otherwise they chewed on cloves to numb the pain. Besides, people only went to the dentists in the 19th century to have their teeth removed. . . which was often the stuff of nightmares. Let’s not go there, okay? *shudders*

It is said false teeth were often ‘robbed from the dead’ and from a living impoverished person on occassion. If the dead happened to be diseased . . . oh well. Do you want to chew or not? How badly do you want to eat? Tough questions, I’ll say. As the years progressed, advancements were made. Thank goodness! And ivory and porcelain became viable teeth-replacement options.

The irony is while there have been loads of scientific advances in dentistry, many of their tools still look no different than their medieval counterpart. Wrenches and pillars don’t change much over time. The material, the handling, the sanitizing, and such have evolved for sure, but the little hook-like-scrappy-thing (not the technical term)used to remove plaque by the dental hygienist looks alarmingly like those of designs of yore. It is worth noting, in 1864 George Fellows invented a clockwork drill.–CLOCKWORK. *pokes all the Steampunk readers* Do you hear that?–Thus, said the dentist drill is a whole other genre of nightmares for many people. So let’s stop the horror talk, as it is no longer Halloween, and be thankful we all have lovely modern teeth.