History Bites – the Perfect 18th Century Smile

20 April, 2011 at 10:07 pm 3 comments

TV ads bring out the worst in me. My inner six-year-old merrily sings along to “Compare the Market” (I should know better than to fall for the brilliant marketing ploy that’s Aleksandr Orlov, but in my defense I have to say that it’s terribly difficult not to love a talking meerkat wearing a dressing gown!) And don’t get me started on Bogdan, the meerkat pup.

Other TV ads, however, turn Mrs. Joyful into Mrs. Hyde. If only the Go Compare tenor knew of my anger as soon as he makes an appearance on TV! And my comments on his insufferable colleague from Aviva Insurances couldn’t be repeated in decent company, either.  But  if there ever was a character at risk of being hit with my fan through the screen, then it’s the bride from the Blend A Med 3D white TV ads.

Bride of Dentenstein

“Oh no! My wedding will be ruined because my my teeth are a different shade of white than my wedding dress! Drama! Despair! Disaster!”

We have to mention here that her teeth have already been of an unnatural blinding white before the treatment with the magic toothpaste. But afterwards, she looks like she’s wearing one of those plastic sets of teeth you can buy for 0.99p and wear on Hallowe’en to scare the neighbours. The grande finale sees her miming biting an apple and a batting of lashes I connect with creepy porcelaine dolls. *hisscoughhairballhiss*

Watch the commercial if you dare!

Teeth are important.  Pearly whites will signal to the world: Hey, look at me! I’m pretty! I’m healthy! I’m successful! I can bite your head off if I have to! And you need them to eat, of course. If you belong to the privileged part of the world with access to a working health system, you can have them fixed if they hurt. No need for you to suffer from excruciating pain for years like poor King Tut. He’d probably given all his wealth plus the sphinx for a pack of paracetamol.

In the 18th century, however, dentists weren’t available to the poor. And there was no anaesthesia, unless you count getting drunk before medical treatment. Instead, you got barbers with rusty pliers and quacks who’d sell you horse urine as a remedy for your “tooth-ach”.

For the majority of the population, there was little to no dental hygiene, but gengivitis, cavities and abscesses instead.  Basically, the Tooth Fairie was on sick leave all through the 18th century.

Money, however, could buy you a perfect smile – well, at least to 18th century standards. You could have them straightened, get fillings and “a composition for the purpose of making of artificial teeth either single double or in rows or in complete sets and also springs for fastening or affixing the same in a more easy and effectual manner than any hitherto discovered which said teeth may be made of any shade or colour, which they will retain for any length of time and will consequently more perfectly resemble the natural teeth” (means: dentures, as patented by Nicholas Dubois De Chemant). This set here belonged to Arthur Richard Dillon (1721-1806), Archbishop of Narbonne in France:

No, I don’t want to know how they were fixed. La la la… as I said, if you had the money, you had the means. And there were plenty of quacks who were only too willing to take advantage of rich people’s vanity. While doing some research on dental treatment aboard the ships of the Royal Navy in the 18th century (which was often better than ashore), I stumbled over yet another creepy sidenote of history:

Let’s assume Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom loses a tooth or two, as it happens. Quite naturally, she’s unhappy; after all, she’s famous for her smile and can’t hide behind her fan all the time. What to do? Luckily, Dr. Quackman is at hand, and has the perfect ailment for her suffering – a tooth transplantation!

Now, remember, this is the 18th century, so please forget anything you know about the modern procedure of the same name. Tooth transplantation in the case of Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom meant that poor people, often children (because their teeth were healthier and smaller than the ones of adults) had their teeth pulled for a couple of coins, and the extracted teeth were “transplanted” into the gums of the customer. This caused great pain, and as you can imagine, the “implants” didn’t last long, but by the time Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom realised that she’d been conned, Dr. Quackman was already miles away, working his dental magic on the next victim customer.

Rowlandson’s caricature “Transplantation of Teeth” shows this cruel procedure. Two beggar children, a boy and a girl, are leaving the room, crying and clutching their cheeks. On the sofa, a malnourished young chimney sweep (who might have been forced to “agree” to this torture by his master) has his teeth pulled by a quack, while the “doctor’s” assistant works on a female customer. It’s really difficult to wrap one’s brain around such cruelty and contempt for the poor, but at least we have the small comfort of knowing that Lady Fluffbunny-Winterbottom eventually ended up with just the looks she deserved…

More on the history of (professional) tooth transplation can be found here.

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Entry filed under: 18th century, art, random, resource. Tags: , , .

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