If you are one of the millions of people terrified of the dentist, read on, to find out how the people of the Victorian era must have felt! Before proper dentists started to appear around 1800, all the British people had were terrifying teeth pullers, who were usually barbers, blacksmiths or butchers in their everyday jobs, but did a bit of dentistry in their spare time – and these people were the closest to experts that the public had! With no painkillers, or actual knowledge of the human tooth involved, going to the dentist really was a life or death experience, many chose to live with the pain of a rotten tooth than risk a visit to the dentist which they may never come out alive from!


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During the early 1800’s, John Hunter, who had failed in his attempt to become a doctor, published a book on his studies of human teeth – including the benefits of regular brushing and avoiding sugary food. He also started the craze for transplanting teeth – soon becoming a way for the poor to make money, they would surrender teeth to richer people who would buy the teeth from them. This was not limited to the living – grave robbers could make good money from stealing teeth from a recently deceased corpse, so it became a lucrative business. A perfect wedding gift for a recently married lady, was to have all of her teeth pulled out and dentures fitted, made from real human teeth! Of course, this option was only available to the wealthy. The poor people still suffered the backstreet dentist’s life or death surgeries.

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During the early 20th century, dentists started to have better understanding of teeth, and even started to experiment with pain relief. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas was popular, although potentially fatal if the balance of chemicals were wrong or if the patient had a bad reaction to the drug. Chloroform was also trialled, but had a similar problem with the death rate as the laughing gas did. Cocaine was also used and injected straight into the jaw with a huge needle!

But really, it was the NHS being formed in 1948 that revolutionised dentistry in the UK, when it was first formed, hordes of people queued to get painful holes filled and rotten teeth extracted, something that up until then had been the privilege of the rich. Now of course dentistry has evolved even more and there isn’t much that dentists today can’t do! Cosmetic dentistry has really taken off, if this is something that you are interested in finding out more about, contact http://www.docklandsdental.ie/cosmetic-dentistry/ to get your smile sorted – and the next time you are afraid to go to the dentist just be thankful that you don’t live in Victorian times and that it really isn’t a matter of life and death anymore!