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.

Evolution of Dental Equipment

Apparently, there seems to be some evidence (which I wouldn’t find) somewhere that people already used dental instruments about 7000 years ago (around 5000BC) according to this blog.  Egyptians seem to have used some sort of dental drill back in the day and the Greek supposedly used something like mint flavored toothpaste, whatever it was made of.
It was the Romans who anticipated daily or regular oral hygiene, though. They also invented or build some of the first dentures made from bone and wires of gold.

Here‘s a Wikipedia article on dental drills. It has a short overview of the history of dental drills and a good photograph of an ancient foot-powered dental drill that looks similar to a spinning wheel.

Foot-powered Dental Drill

Foot-powered ancient Dental Drill, photograph by Royalbroil (available from Wikimedia Commons)

to be continued…

Discovery of Anaesthesia

The anaesthetic effect of different gases and potions has long been known but not until Horace Wells purposely made use of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in the year 1844 was anaesthesia common. Anaesthetics back then were commonly used as drugs rather than with any medical purpose. An interesting article by Henry Wood Erving tells the story of the discovery of anaesthesia by Dr. Horace Wells of Hartford from 1933. Wells actually claims to have found out about anaesthesic effects (rather than just drug abuse) of different substances, especially laughing gas, about two years before Dr. Jackson and Dr. Morton.
It was Wells who also began using laughing gas for dental surgery.
Another brief history of laughing gas can be found on a medical blog from Marian University, largely based on “The Not-So-Funny Tale Of Laughing Gas” by NPR.

As with most other scientifically relevant discoveries, the discovery of anaesthesia happened by accident. Although laughing gas was already well known for its effects on the human perception and consciousness, nobody before Horace Wells used it with anaesthetic purpose. It just happened to be Dr. Wells who witnessed an unusual sight at a show featuring laughing gas in the year 1844. He was sitting in the audience while watching someone use laughing gas. A young man got really drugged and excited and accidentally hurt his leg resulting in a bleeding wound he did not notice until sitting down next to Dr. Wells who then asked him about it. Thus, the discovery of the anaesthetic effect of laughing gas made. Wells then applied laughing gas to himself in an experiment at the time he had to have a tooth removed (he was a dentist himself but let someone else remove his tooth), proving the usefulness of nitrous oxide as an anaesthetic.

Some facts about nitrous oxide can be found here and here.
Nitrous oxide is a compound with the formula N_2 O, is colorless and non-flammable, with a slightly sweet smell, which is the reason why it is sometimes also known as sweet air, although laughing gas is the more common term for it.

To be continued…

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 parthénos presbútis (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.

More related to Dental equipment

Barbershop Legends

Barbers used to not only shave mens’ faces but also, in earlier days, performed surgery and dentistry, especially tooth pulling. Therefore, many barbers were called “Bloody” Barbers because of the bloody mess they made, some very unpleasant imagination if you think about it.

A sketch by Monty Python makes fun of the barber-surgeon profession and their
reputation as ‘bloody barbers’:

Legend has it that the Barber’s Pole’s colors are red and white (and sometimes, in the United States at least, blue) resemble the dirty and clean, red and white, cloth that barbers used to hang out around the poles in front of their shops in order to dry after using and cleaning them. Unfortunately, there is no proper evidence for this that I was able to find so far, except for some vague formulations and assumptions made in the book “The Excruciating History of Dentistry” by James Wynbrandt. Following Wynbrandt, the poles were later painted red so that the gory sight would be minimized, with with bandages hanging around the poles. Fortunately, there’s a long article about the history of barber-surgeons by the BBC:

The most prominent (although fictional) barber-surgeon probably is “Sweeney Todd”. Although his tale does not say anything about being a surgeon, he ends up slitting people’s throats with surgical precision using specialized razors.

Apparently, the union of barbers with the semi-professions of surgeons and dentists has originated from a Papal Decree in the Middle Ages (around 1092 AD), because of a series of reasons. The most important reason being that clerical staff would not be allowed to perform any operations or anything involving blood shed in any form. The second-most important reason was the profession of the barber already involving sharp blades, rendering them perfect for the job as surgeons for minor operations, tooth extractions and blood-letting.

To be continued…

Here are some interesting links, though, that tell you more about barbers and surgery:’s_pole

James Joyce Research

James Joyce / Victorian Era
“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.”  – Joyce
Born: Feb. 2, 1882
Died: Jan. 13, 1941
Cause of Death: Peritonitis and perforated duodenal ulcer
Physician’s Notes: Nearly blind for the last third of his life, the Irish author of Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake was wearing thick glasses at age six. As a young, unpublished writer, he was destitute, surviving on cocoa, which resulted in illness and severe toothaches. He couldn’t afford a dentist, and his tooth condition worsened, eventually causing iritis of both eyes. In 1907 he suffered an attack of rheumatic fever. Ten years later the attacks of iritis were so acute that he once spent five weeks recovering from one. Then he developed glaucoma. In 1923 he was advised to have all of his abscessed teeth extracted. This brought some relief from the iritis attacks, but between 1923 and 1926 he underwent seven eye operations, including one to remove the lens in his left eye. His eyes grew steadily worse. After his 10th eye operation (he was to have one more), he was able to see just enough to read newspaper headlines. (Writing in semidarkness, it took him 17 years to complete Finnegans Wake.) On Jan. 10, 1941, suffering from severe stomach pains, he was rushed to the hospital “writhing like a fish.” X rays revealed a perforated duodenal ulcer. An operation was initially successful, but Joyce weakened and finally fell into a coma, awakening only once before he died. His last words were “Does nobody understand?”


The name of one of Joyce’s notebooks, which is perhaps the most important early document relating to Finnegan’s wake (written 1922 – 1926) . It contains words, phrases, clichés, anecdotes, ideas, scraps of information and other memoranda.
The notebook was written in the time period before Joyce’s eye surgery (i.e. Around the time he had all his teeth removed?!).

Etymology: scribbledehobble (n.): James Joyce’s nonce-formation on scribble n. or scribble v., prob. influenced by such a word as hobbledehoy.
For instance in scribbledehobble he gives us a shorthand version of the park incident, expressed in terms of vegetation: “One’s upon a thyme and two’s behind their lettice leap and three’s among the strubbely beds” (Joyce really liked puns).

See Google Books: A first-draft version of Finnegans wake By James Joyce, David Hayman

Finnegan’s Wake online, annotated version. Warning: The book is nuts.

The Original Ballad of Finnegan’s Wake:
In the ballad, the hod-carrier Tim Finnegan, born “with a love for the liquor”, falls from a ladder, fractures his skull, and is thought to be dead. The mourners at his wake become rowdy, and spill whiskey over Finnegan’s corpse, causing him to come back to life and join in the celebrations. Whiskey causes both Finnegan’s fall and his resurrection—whiskey is derived from the Irishphrase uisce beatha, meaning “water of life”.

PDF of Ulysses: