Monday, August 11, 2014

Transplanting teeth in the 1700's

Michael Sobolev at the Technion drew my attention to two copies of a 1787 engraving depicting tooth transplantation.

<em>Transplanting Teeth</em> (c.1790) [Engraving]

One copy of the picture is on this site of the British Dentistry Association, which offers the following commentary:

Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
Engraving hand coloured on paper
This is one of Rowlandson’s best-known works with a dental subject. The transplanting of teeth was particularly popular at the end of the eighteenth century. Poor people were paid to have their healthy teeth removed for immediate placement into the waiting mouths of wealthy, older patients whose own teeth had decayed and been extracted. The treatment went out of fashion as it had several disadvantages. Long term success was extremely rare, and furthermore syphilis could be transmitted with the transplanted tooth.
The central scene shows a fashionably attired dentist removing a tooth from a poor chimney-sweep with a tooth key (note the forceps on the floor, used to shake the tooth lose prior to extraction). An aristocratic lady, who is to receive the tooth, watches with apprehension. She has to resort to her smelling salts to overcome the smell of the poor person, seated next to her. On the right, one of the dentist’s assistants is examining the next patient, an elegantly dressed young lady with clenched hands, as she anticipates her forthcoming extraction. In the rear, between these two groups is a dandy examining his newly transplanted tooth in a mirror. On the extreme left, two poor sellers are leaving the room; one is holding his hand to his painful jaw while the other is disdainfully examining the miserly payment she has received for her tooth.
On the notice on the door is the statement: "Most money given for live teeth". Teeth from the dead were also transplanted. The social comment contained in this caricature is directed at the abuse of the poor, not at the transplanting procedure. To underline the satire the rich are in bright colours and the poor are drab and dull.
The museum has recently been involved in a film about transplanting of teeth in the 18th century; watch it here.
If you enjoyed this print why not visit the BDA shop on-line to buy a copy of 'Open Wide: A Series of Eighteenth and Ninetheenth Century Caricatures on Dentistry'? 

Another copy of the picture is on this site, with this commentary:
This print is by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and is dated 1787. It is a satirical comment upon the real practice of rich gentlemen and ladies of the 18th century paying for teeth to be pulled from poor children and transplanted in their gums. The dentist present is portrayed as a quack. There are even two quacking ducks on the placard advertising his fake credentials. He is busy pulling teeth from the mouth of a poor young chimney sweep. Covered in soot and exhausted, he slumps in a chair. Meanwhile the dentist's assistant transplants a tooth into a fashionably dressed young lady's mouth. Two children can be seen leaving the room clutching their faces and obviously in pain from having their teeth extracted. As people lost most of their teeth by age 21 due to gum disease, teeth transplants were popular for some time in England although they rarely worked.

Thomas Rowlandson, "Transplanting Teeth," The Wellcome Library, Annotated by Lynda Payne.

How to Cite This Source
Thomas Rowlandson, "Transplanting Teeth (c.1790) [Engraving]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #164, (accessed July 10, 2014). Annotated by Lynda Payne

(And here's an earlier post on transplantation of teeth: )

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