OFF THE RECORD

A set of ad­ver­tise­ments for a Vic­to­rian den­tist prove rather eye-open­ing for

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Alan Crosby

A set of ad­verts for a Vic­to­rian den­tist give Alan Crosby plenty to chew over

Ad­ver­tise­ments in old news­pa­pers are an end­less source of harm­less fun. “Why on earth did they fall for it?” I ask my­self, be­fore think­ing of the im­plau­si­ble claims made by many TV ads (surely hair can’t be that glossy!). A gen­tle­man called Lloyd ad­ver­tised reg­u­larly in the Pre­ston Her­ald dur­ing the late 1860s and early 1870s, un­der the eye-catch­ing head­line “FRENCH, AMER­I­CAN, AND ENGLISH AR­TI­FI­CIAL TEETH”. A den­tist with premises in the town cen­tre, he was a real en­thu­si­ast, an­nounc­ing “to the peo­ple of Lan­cashire gen­er­ally, and the in­hab­i­tants of Pre­ston par­tic­u­larly” that he con­tin­ued to sup­ply his cel­e­brated “in­cor­rodi­ble, in­cor­rupt­ible, and un­de­tectable MIN­ERAL AR­TI­FI­CIAL TEETH”.

These were avail­able in five qual­i­ties, which in 1868 ranged from teeth “on pure gold” at 20 guineas down to “strong vul­can­ite, for the work­ing classes only, war­ranted to fit well, and to an­swer all the pur­poses of mas­ti­ca­tion and ar­tic­u­la­tion” for 5 guineas – although £5 might be half a year’s wage, so in­vest­ing in new gnash­ers was be­yond the reach of most work­ers. They re­mained gappy in ap­pear­ance, and mum­bling of speech.

Lloyd’s ad­ver­tise­ments re­veal much about the hor­rors of Vic­to­rian den­tistry, for he made a spe­cial point of not fol­low­ing “the old and al­most ob­so­lete prac­tice of re­mov­ing sound and healthy stumps, and thereby com­pletely de­stroy­ing the sym­me­try of the mouth, mak­ing young peo­ple to look old, caus­ing a great deal of acute, un­nec­es­sary pain, and ne­ces­si­tat­ing the per­ma­nent adop­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial gums”.

In pro­vin­cial Lan­cashire a metropoli­tan con­nec­tion might im­ply so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Lloyd was, he an­nounced, as­sisted by “Mr Smith from Lon­don”, who also at­tended branch es­tab­lish­ments at Wi­gan, Chor­ley and Lan­caster once a week. In 1866 Lloyd proudly stated that “Only one visit is re­quired from Coun­try Pa­tients”, that his patent white ce­ment would fill any holes in real teeth, and that he never used chlo­ro­form.

But, as most of us know from our own den­tal ex­pe­ri­ences, the ab­sence of anaes­thetic was not a good sell­ing point, and by 1869 that claim had been aban­doned: “Teeth ex­tracted as usual in a per­fectly pain­less and most agree­able man­ner by the aid of PURE NITROUS OXIDE GAS.”

Ad­ver­tise­ments such as these, highly en­ter­tain­ing at a safe dis­tance of 150 years, re­veal much about the na­ture of con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety. Take, for ex­am­ple, the ca­sual ref­er­ence to “Coun­try Pa­tients”, which high­lights the role of the cen­trally placed mar­ket town, while the use of the magic word ‘Lon­don’

im­bued any ad­ver­tise­ment with a sense of glam­our. An ad­ja­cent small ad uses an­other magic con­nec­tion—roy­alty. It sim­ply ex­horts read­ers to “USE ONLY GLENFIELD STARCH: THE QUEEN’S LAUN­DRESS USES NO OTHER”.

It’s prover­bial that the Vic­to­ri­ans had bad teeth, but in fact ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work has shown that their teeth were gen­er­ally in good con­di­tion. They tended to be worn down, be­cause foods were not cleaned and re­fined in the man­ner of to­day’s pro­cessed prod­ucts. Coarse flour, and fine grit in veg­eta­bles, acted as an abra­sive, steadily wear­ing away the sur­face of mo­lars. But the ab­sence of sig­nif­i­cant quan­ti­ties of sugar in the diet helped to pro­tect teeth against rot and de­cay. One un­fore­seen con­se­quence of the re­moval of the sugar tax in the 1870s, and the re­sult­ing mas­sive in­crease in con­sump­tion (cakes, bis­cuits, sweets and sug­ary tea), was den­tal de­cay on a grand scale.

Many of our fore­bears were gap-toothed. It was quite nor­mal – and they did not smile in pho­to­graphs be­cause they had some­thing to hide. How­ever, by the 1920s false teeth were com­par­a­tively af­ford­able, and in a lot of fam­i­lies a son or daugh­ter re­ceived a fine new set on their 21st birth­day. They would need to have their re­main­ing teeth re­moved, but then they could grin broadly for the cam­era!

The Vic­to­ri­ans’ teeth were gen­er­ally in good con­di­tion

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