Rich Ge­or­gians hap­pily ac­cepted teeth ex­tracted from the poor – or even the dead

BBC History Magazine - - A History Of Teeth -

This 1787 etch­ing by Thomas Row­land­son, en­ti­tled Trans­plant­ing of Teeth, demon­strates the huge dis­par­i­ties in ac­cess to den­tal care be­tween rich and poor in the 18th cen­tury. The chim­ney sweep at the cen­tre of the im­age is hav­ing a tooth re­moved, while the well-dressed woman next to him waits for the ex­tracted tooth to be im­planted into her mouth.

“Teeth trans­plan­ta­tion had its mo­ment at the end of the 18th cen­tury,” com­ments Scott-Dear­ing. “Sur­geon John Hunter was the first to ex­per­i­ment with trans­plant­ing teeth, and in the 1770s he claimed to have suc­cess­fully trans­planted a hu­man tooth into the comb of a cock­erel [the bird’s head is on show in the ex­hi­bi­tion]. Hu­man to hu­man tooth trans­plants soon fol­lowed – most stay­ing in place for a year or two – and den­tists lured the poor to their surg­eries of­fer­ing money for live teeth.

“Even corpses weren’t im­mune to the boom­ing trade in teeth. Af­ter the bat­tle of Water­loo, it’s said that within 24 hours thou­sands of dead sol­diers were stripped of their teeth, to be set into den­tures.”

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