Victoria Day – Victorian Dentistry

Victoria Day, 24- weekend is the second most notable event next to Mother’s Day celebrated  in May. So in the interest of the Queen’s birthday, we thought it would be interesting to compare Victorian dentistry to today.

Victoria reigned from 1837 – 1901. Not too many people like to visit the dentist, but back then it was more like no one wanted to see the dentist… and the reasons were well founded. Generally the only treatment you could get were extractions and then usually by blacksmiths, barbers, or questionably trained “dentists”.

The battle of Waterloo was fought 4 years before Victoria was born 

and lends its name to Waterloo teeth, that is, dentures made from the teeth of the fallen soldiers during the battle. Other dentures might have had some form of ivory teeth and interesting solutions to keep them in the mouth.  Did I mention that extractions were without any form of anesthesia?

Speaking of anesthesia did you know that we tooth drawers were involved in its development? In 1884 cocaine in solution was used as a local anesthetic. The infamous Canadian born Painless Parker used a mix of whiskey and cocaine for his so called painless extractions.

In 1844 Horace Wells used nitrous oxide (laughing gas) for extractions and in 1846 William Morton superseded it with ether anesthesia. Since then dentistry has evolved various chemical anesthetics, electronic anesthesia, computer controlled injections and if lasers are being used, the need for anesthetic may not be necessary at all!

It should be apparent that these extractions led to a great deal of suffering, injury and illness. This changed only when dentistry was brought under legislative control. In Ontario this occurred in 1868, while in Britain it was in 1878.

Dental education was being formalized and one of the first schools was the Maryland School of Dentistry in Baltimore, Maryland founded in 1840. Dentistry has made an effort to evolve to the state that it is today.

Dentists in Victoria’s time didn’t have a specific office; work was done at their homes if they were not itinerant. Dentists were very expensive and only the wealthy could afford to pay. Today dental insurance minimizes that pain.

Instruments were re-used instead of replaced after every visit and infection control was primitive in comparison. Drills were powered manually with foot pedals that the dentist had to pump hard to generate power. Today the high speed drill has even been replaced by the all tissue laser in some venues.

Preventative dentistry as we know it today didn’t exist in Victorian times – William Addis in 1780 Britain is responsible for their first mass produced tooth brush. Now the electric and ultrasonic brush with associated ‘apps’ is available to one and all. Coupled with the variety of tooth pastes available today, the average Victorian would be gob smacked.

So… how are your teeth? Are you brushing and flossing properly? Are you up to date on your check-ups at your dental home?                            Remember Oral Wellness, Whole health

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *