5 reasons why you did NOT want toothache in Victorian times


Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. But it’s good to look back to appreciate the wonders of 21st century healthcare.

For a gent or a lady with the toothache, a trip to the dentist would have been “challenging”… and approaches to oral health were a little different!

  1. Drills powered by foot pedals

    Modern equipment uses compressed air but in the 1900s it was the furious pedalling of the gentleman dentist that would have driven the drill.

    This was the case until relative recently. My father was a dentist and he remembered using these at dental school in the 60s.

  2. Smile like a hippopotamus

    The false teeth for dentures were made of wood (US President George Washington’s were alleged to have been… they weren’t) or ivory from animals, including elephants and hippopotami (or hippopotamuses… either is allowable… I’ve just checked).

    There was also a black market for the use of real teeth from corpses, but these were only used in grave circumstances.

  3. Brush regularly with brick dust

    Toothpaste as we know it wasn’t around. In fact, tooth brushing in general may not have been around very much.

    Salt was a common abrasive that was used, possibly mixed with bicarbonate of soda for a frothy finish.

    Other “tooth powders” may have included soot, charcoal and brick dust.

  4. Share and share alike!

    Twigs were commonly used to scrub teeth.

    But if you were really posh, you may have had a tooth brush. Some households may have just had the one to pass around. But it might have been a bobby-dazzler of a piece with an ivory handle and bristles made from animal hair (which probably contained bacteria and other organisms).

    Lovely… can I have my go before Grandma this time?

  5. Toothless wonder

    The commonest treatment for toothache was taking the tooth out. There was no preventative dentistry and fillings were probably quite rare.

    And the state of the nation’s teeth was terrible. The Industrial Revolution heralded in a huge increase in sugar consumption within the population… and that’s where the rot set it.

    Your “dentist” may not have even been formally trained. Compulsory registration and qualifications for dentists didn’t come in until 1897. Might as well have been the local barber.

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“One piston chair about 1870.” by Newton Mattogrossense Maiewski – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Emperor Napoleon’s toothbrush/ London Science Museum/ Creative Commons