The Horrors of Historical Dentistry

Posted by Pioneer Lasers on

Old style sign for dentist: "Denistry, painless, extractions, dentures"

In 1665, during the time of the plague in London, 10% of fatalities excluding plague victims were caused by issues with teeth. Understanding how to take care of teeth was difficult during this time period. Unique tools and methods were needed throughout history. Here are three of the most horrifying.

Urine Rinse

Even back in ancient Rome, there was a desire to have clean and white teeth. Apart from having a slave pick old food out of their master's teeth with a twig, unique mixtures were created as a sort of toothpaste. Pliny the Elder was a Roman author of the time who advised that mixing the ashes of donkey teeth and hare head with mouse brain would help clean the teeth. But just oral cleanliness wasn’t the end. There were those who also wanted to whiten their teeth and set out to mixing goats milk with urine to be used as a mouth rinse.

Dental Key

Pliers were some of the first tools used to extract teeth but soon the dental key was introduced to aid in those efforts in the 1900’s. This tool used a levering motion to essentially pop the decayed tooth from its socket. But the new technology didn’t mean better practice. Ripping out bone, flesh and adjacent teeth were common since this tool caused more injuries than all of the other extraction tools at the time. But due to its convenience, the pain and increased risk of infection were overlooked by the “dental professionals” who were primarily barbers or blacksmiths.

Transplanting of Human Teeth

This falls under one of the more controversial procedures of historical dentistry during the early 19th century. If the teeth of an aristocrat were decayed and damaged, they could be replaced for a price from the mouth of the poor. Few teeth from this procedure would re-root in the new mouth and it there was an increased risk in contracting serious diseases. But this didn’t stop the wealthy. The value of teeth only increased even as it became normal to steal teeth off dead bodies for the creation of life-like dentures.


The difference in dentistry today is not only huge to that of 50 years ago but is incredibly vast when compared to the Romans or ancient Londoners. Thanks to modern technology, the dentist is no longer a fear for patients and good oral hygiene is easily maintained.

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