Dentist in the Past

Before the late eighteenth century, the term ‘dentist’ wasn’t even used. Instead, care of the teeth was the responsibility of a range of different – and sometimes surprising – practitioners such as barber-surgeons.

What would it have been like to have a tooth pulled before the anesthetic? A range of equipment was certainly needed. Dental ‘keys’ were used to lever teeth out or even break them into pieces! If all else failed, some dental forceps also had a steel ball on the end of one handle, used to smash the offending tooth out and end the unfortunate patient’s ordeal.

It is worth sparing a thought for our predecessors, who endured untold pain and misery at the hands of a pre-modern dentist. Next time you’re sitting in the dentist’s waiting room too, be thankful for anesthetic and the modern preference for saving, rather than removing, teeth, wherever possible. Things were NOT always better in the past!

Dr Alun Withey, Wellcome Research Fellow, University of Exeter