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Dentistry in the 18th century was not a pretty picture. It was painful, dirty, full of crackpot theories, and tended to not actually be very good for the teeth. However, it was also a century of progress.

This is the century where our interpretation of modern dentistry was first established and dentistry became more defined as a profession. Anesthesia during dental procedures was introduced in the late 18th century by Joseph Priestley, who discovered nitrous oxide (laughing gas)

Back in the 1700s very little was known about how to take care of teeth and more often than not the common remedy for any kind of dental related issue was to simply extract the tooth. This is where things got gross, painful and dangerous.

Most dentists used a ‘key’ to extract teeth which had a handle similar to a corkscrew and a bottom that was like a round pair of pliers (the perfect size to fit a tooth). The pliers were tightened around the offending tooth and the handle was used to yank it out. Of course, the operation wasn’t always successful. Sometimes the tooth broke and had to be taken out piece by piece. Other times, bits of jawbone might come out with the tooth. It must also be noted that there were no painkillers. All the patients that underwent these procedures were completely conscious and could feel everything.

In the 18th century, the upper-class diets became increasingly more sweet thanks to more available sugar, which meant that there were a lot of teeth being pulled from the mouths of the rich. Thankfully, the 1700s was the century where dentures became popular. The wealthy could have their teeth replaced with teeth from ‘donors’ (the poor that sold their teeth to pay their bills or the criminals that had their teeth pulled in prison) or they could replace their old teeth with new teeth made from ivory, porcelain or animal bone. There were several different methods of fitting these dentures into place. One of these methods included fitting the new tooth into the socket of the old one and using silver wire to fasten it into place.

It wasn’t until the mid to late 17th century that people started to become more aware of dental hygiene. Thomas Berdmore, dentist of King George III, was the first person to suggest that sugar and smoking were bad for teeth. He was ahead of his time with these ideas, although the rest of his ideas might not have been considering he recommended children chew on coral to strengthen their baby teeth.

Since then a lot has changed. Instead of washing our teeth with urine to prevent aches and pains we use electric toothbrushes and coral-free toothpaste to keep our teeth and gums healthy and clean. However, we can thank the 18th century that our modern dentistry is more science than superstition. Without Bedmore’s book ‘A Treatise On The Deformities And Disorders Of The Teeth And Gums’ modern dentistry might be completely different and most of us would still be getting our teeth pulled when we got a bit of a toothache.