Thursday, December 1, 2011

Be Thankful

     Since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, the subject of being thankful seems appropriate.  For me, that brings to mind the dental exhibit at the NMCWM.  One look at the dental tools used in the mid-1800s should make anyone thankful that they live today!

These are tooth keys – early tooth extraction devices.  The dentist would
use a twisting and pulling motion to remove a tooth with one of these. 
Are you cringing yet?

Dental forceps replaced tooth keys.  They made tooth extraction somewhat
easier as they were used in a grasping and pulling motion. 

     When the Civil War started, the dental profession was still fairly new, as well as being rather expensive for the average citizen.  Most people only visited a dentist if they needed a tooth extracted.  A Civil War soldier’s teeth were an important consideration though.  Many recruits were rejected for not having opposing upper and lower front teeth.  Without these teeth, a soldier could not easily bite the end off of the paper-wrapped powder cartridges used with their muzzle loading rifles.

Here’s a more familiar sight – a toothbrush.  This one is made of ivory
and boar bristles.  The hole in the handle allowed it to hang from a cord
around the soldier’s neck.

     Some of the medicines used in dentistry during the Civil War can make you shake your head as well.  Creosote was used to “mummify” the root of a tooth – an early form of a root canal!  Cavities were filled with gold foil, tin foil, or an amalgam of tin, silver, and mercury.  

A container for a small creosote bottle.  The  label reads, “POISON!
Saturate a little cotton and apply in hollow of tooth.”

     Dentures were around during the Civil War too.  The one pictured below is made of German silver, also known as nickel silver, and has two porcelain front teeth.  It probably wasn't particularly comfortable, but it got the job done.  

A partial denture and case.

     So, now don’t you feel better about going to your dentist?!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine

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