Friday, February 6, 2009

Teeth and Dentistry over time

I broke a cusp off of one of my upper molars last week, and have been running my tongue over it ever since. This got me thinking, of course, about how lucky we are to have dentists and the like to repair the damage done before real problems set in. I called yesterday and got an appointment this morning, and had the tooth ground down, impressions made and a temporary crown installed. All within 90 minutes without any pain, except to the wallet.

This has happened before, of course, since I am a pretty old guy with lots of silver fillings in my teeth - the result of a sweet-laden and mis-brushed/flossed youth. Every time I go in for a cleaning, the dentist comes by to say hello and pick at the fillings, hoping to shake one loose and create another earning opportunity for the office.

My father decided as a young man (I don't know what age he was - perhaps under age 30) that he wanted nothing to do with future tooth problems. He had a dentist remove all of his teeth and replace them with full dentures. His sister claimed that this was done without anesthesia, which I cannot imagine! I never knew this as a boy, it was only until I met my Aunts and Uncle in the 1960's that I was told. I do recall seeing dentures in a glass from time to time but I don't recall seeing my father without his teeth installed, ever.

My mind wandered while I was staring at the dentist's bright light (even with the fashion dark glasses they gave me - they fold in the middle!) and I wondered what dentistry in colonial times might have been like. I Googled [dentistry colonial teeth] and was rewarded with a fascinating book titled The Excruciating History of Dentistry, Toothsome Tales & Oral Oddities from Babylon to Braces, by James Wynbrandt.

This book was published in 2000, but excerpts are available on Google Books. I read several chapters from this book and am appalled at the practices used for dental care, even into the 20th century.

Paul Revere apparently was one who practiced some aspect of dentistry. The web site has this excerpt from the book Customs and Fashions in Old New England by Alice Morse Earle:

"Live Teeth. Those Persons inclined to dispose of Live Teeth may apply to Templeton. Whereas many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their Fore Teeth by Accident or Otherways to their great detriment not only in looks but in speaking both public and private.

"This is to inform all such that they may have them replaced with artificial ones that look as well as the Natural and answer the End of Speaking by Paul Revere, Silversmith, near the head of Dr. Clark’s wharf. All persons who have had False Teeth Fixed by Mr. Jos. Baker, Surgeone Dentist, and They have got loose as they will in Time may have them fastened by above said Revere who learnst the method of fixing them from Mr. Baker."

The daily life of our colonial (and later!) ancestors was hard on them physically, and was often painful for long periods. Still, many of them lived to what we consider "old age."

I am really glad that we have the level of professional dentistry that we have today.

UPDATE: Gena Philibert Ortega posted Dentistry two months ago - it has some useful links too.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

My father ended up with dentures in his 20's but I never understood why. I once had a dentist named Dr. Payne. Hope the rest of your crown is pain free.

Gena Philibert-Ortega said...

Randy, I posted about the history of dentistry on my blog,, after having my teeth deep cleaned.(I think deep cleaning should be outlawed, it felt more like deep torture.)

But I will say that after looking at some of the old dental instruments and practices-I am very glad to live now and not back 'in the day'.

Nikki - Notes of Life said...

I was told a couple of years back about the reason behind my Great Grandfather's long beard. Apparently, he grew it to hide the fact he'd had to have part of his jaw removed due to an infected tooth!