history-of-dentistry

3

Sugar Affluenza 

In early modern Europe, refined sugar became a status symbol. The sweet tooth of the 1%, combined with their zeal for over-the-top banqueting, lead to a dreaded new disease, thought to be God’s punishment for gluttony: dental decay.

Pictured: A terrifying 17th-century dentist and designs for table sculptures made entirely of sugar.

Royal Cavities: The Bitter Implications of Sugar Consumption in Early Modern Europe

2

Waterloo Teeth,

In the 18th and 19th century dentures were made from a variety of materials; ivory, bone, animal teeth, ceramics, and others.  However the best dentures were those constructed from genuine second hand human teeth.  Such dentures were rare and expensive, as there was a very limited supply of teeth available to construct them.  A lucky dentist might be able to acquire the teeth of an executed criminal, that is if the criminal had a nice set of pearly whites. Body snatchers were also a common source.  While body snatching was often done to provide cadavers for medical schools, corpses could also be unearthed by snatchers for their teeth.  War was particularly profitable time for dentists, who would often hang around battlefields so that they could yank the teeth of fallen soldiers after the fighting had ended.  Such a practice was especially common during the Napoleonic Wars, as the large battles of the war such as Austerlitz, Jena, and Leipzig resulted in fields strewn with tens of thousands of corpses.  The Battle of Waterloo was most notorious for teeth scavengers. Located in Belgium, the battlefield was not far from France, England, The Netherlands, and Germany.  Thus there was an opportunity for dentists and denture makers from many nations to converge upon the battlefield in order to scavenge for teeth.  In addition, being the last major battle of the Napoleonic Wars, it was the last chance for dentists to score an easy source of second hand teeth.  The pickings were very rich as the carnage of Waterloo would result in the deaths of over 50,000 men.  As a result, dentures constructed from soldiers teeth, regardless of which battlefield they originated from were often called “Waterloo Teeth”.  The practice of scavenging battlefields for teeth would continue to a lesser extent during the Crimean War and American Civil War.