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Tooth Drawers

“A trumpet blares calling the rabble to gather beofre a stage in the marketplace. On the raised platform, a chattering monkey surveys the throng from beneath a parosol while a juggler performs tricks and recites ribald jokes, warming up the assembly, Now the juggler retires, the music stops, and a commanding figure bolts onto the stage dressed in a magnificent plumed hat and rich tunic, a neck-lace of huuman teeth strung about his neck. Soon his boastful oration has lured a recalcitracnt toothaches sufferer to the stage. It is over in a moment. The troublesome tooth is out, quickly and painlessly. The volunteer look on, stunned, as the tooth-drawer holds the tooth aloft for the crowds delecation. Now more of the orally holds afflicted press forward to submit to the tooth drawers ministrations. It is unlikely those lining up will have as unpainful an experience as the confederate who jsut pretended to have his tooth drawn. but the blare of horn and beating of drum will drown out their cries. And by the time sespis sets in or other life-threatening complications arising from the tooth-drawers incompetence present themselves, the charlatan will be long gone.”

The medieval dentist travelled from town to town as a sort of performance artist working at markets and fairs. He attracted his crowd by reading stories, singing and juggling. Often the dentists assistant would be dressed like a jester or harlequin with a pointed hat on which there would be an insignia of St. Apollonia. Alot of tooth pullers used music to attract the crown but more importantly drown out the sound of the patient screaming. It appears that if a tooth puller could extract a tooth smoothly then there would be no shortage of volunteers. This may be the reason why tooth pullers often had a plant in the crowd who they would fake an extraction with.

In several paintings of tooth drawers the victim or patient also appears to be being robbed by the dentists assistant. Tooth drawers are depicted as lowly people who took advantage of the suffereres in towns and villages.

There is an interesting link between Pierre Fachard and his goal to eradicate the profession of tooth drawers. There is also a link between St.Apollonia and tooth drawers as their assistants wore the symbol for St.Apollonia.



Pierre Fauchard

Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761) Is considered the father of dentistry. He was a french physician who became one of the top dentists in Paris. He trained to be a dentist in the French navy where scurvy and war took their tole on the sailors mouths. He despised tooth pullers who he called charlatans and believed they were only out to con innocent members of the public. He discovered the way tooth pullers went about their work. He wrote an account about it in the book “The Excruciating History of Dentistry” where he describes how tooth pullers try to extract a tooth from some poor unfortunate. They would hide a tooth covered in chicken blood in their hand then inspect the victims mouth and drop the tooth inside. Then the tooth puller touches the sore tooth of the victim and makes him spit. When the crowd see the victim spit out some blood and the tooth which was introduced into the mouth by the tooth puller they are amazed. After this any other tooth sufferer in the crowd will gladly pay for their tooth to be pulled. At which point the tooth puller may use the eye tooth excuse (the tooth is connected with the eye). Pierre did not believe this excuse because he was well read about the anatomy of the mouth and face. He was bothered by the fact that anyone could become a dentist there was no need for qualifications as long as you had a convincing persona about you, you could extract teeth from peoples mouths.

Pierre used five different pieces of dental equipment one of which is the Peilican. It may be that Fauchard was one of the first to use this piece of dental equipment. Interestingly Fauchard in 1729 was the first dentist to treat patients sitting in a chair. Before that patients were treated on the floor. His potions where elaborate and contained ingredients that ordinary members of the public could find difficult to obtain. He also advocated bloodletting to releive toothaches. He didnt beleive in the tooth worm entirely and at that period in history the tooth worm was becoming mythical but he did claim that insect larvaie could hatch in the mouth causing itching and pain. So in a sense he wasnt a perfect dentist.

Became famous for writing “Le chirurgien dentiste” (The Surgeon Dentist) in 1728 which dealt with oral hygiene, how to maintain teeth and identified different gum diseases. This book was followed by others which made people more aware of the importance of oral hygiene and how to treat toothaches better. In that sense his book was the beginning of turning dentistry from the back lane joke profession of tooth pullers to the modern medical profession that is dentistry.

The chair story is quite interesting how he was the first to treat people in dental chairs. Although he used armchairs and there is nothing in the literature about him inventing a dental chair.




The book is the best source of literature about Fauchard.

St Apollonia

Killed during the Alexandrian uprising against the Christians. During the anniversary of the first millenary of the Roman Empire. The heathen populace became very agitated during this time. There was no protection given to the Christians by the authorities so many of them perished or where set upon by heathens. Apollonia the parthĂ©nos presbĂștis (meaning non virgin or advanced in years) was one such Christian attacked by the heathen mob because she was held in high esteem at the time. She was beaten and had all her teeth broken.

A pile of fagots was erected and Apollonia was threatened with being burned unless shed blasphemied against christ or say a heathen prayer. She refused and when the mob let their guard down she jumped into the flames (I dont know why she didnt just run free?)

The book on dental history contradicts this and states that she had her teeth removed one by one a common torture ritual used by the Roman Empire. Once the teeth were removed she was beaten about the face and head. The book also claims she jumped into a nearby fire and nothing about building a fire. The suffering endured by Apollonia is said to comfort those who suffer from toothaches. She is considered an early christian martyr who willingly died instead of denouncing christ. Her feast day is the 9th of February and she is the patron saint of tootaches and also of dentists.

She is often depicted in paintings as a lady holding a forceps with a tooth and a halo. Although her appearance changes quite drastically. Sometimes she is an elderly lady, other times she is young. Her hair colour changes as well as sometimes being portrayed in a sexual sense. The one common theme is the forceps and the tooth.

I suppose for a positive story she gives people hope or something to believe in if the are of a religious background. She can watch over them and those working in the profession.

For a dark story she had all her teeth knocked out and was burned to death so that is very dark and disturbing.



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