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The Excruciating History of Dentistry: Toothsome Tales and Oral Oddities from Babylon to Braces
     

The Excruciating History of Dentistry: Toothsome Tales and Oral Oddities from Babylon to Braces

by James Wynbrandt
 
For those on both sides of the dreaded dentist's chair, James Wynbrandt has written a witty, colorful, and richly informative history of the art and science of dentistry. To all of those dental patients whose whine rises in tandem with that of the drill, take note: You would do well to stifle your terror and instead offer thanks to Apollonia, the patron saint of

Overview

For those on both sides of the dreaded dentist's chair, James Wynbrandt has written a witty, colorful, and richly informative history of the art and science of dentistry. To all of those dental patients whose whine rises in tandem with that of the drill, take note: You would do well to stifle your terror and instead offer thanks to Apollonia, the patron saint of toothache sufferers, that you face only fleeting discomfort rather than the disfiguring distress, or slow agonizing death oft meted out by dental-care providers of the past. The transition from yesterday's ignorance, misapprehension, and superstition to the enlightened and nerve-deadened protocols of today has been a long, slow, and very painful process.

For example, did you know that:
*Among the toothache remedies favored by Pierre Fauchard, the father of dentistry, was rinsing the mouth liberally with one's own urine.
*George Washington never had wooden teeth. However, his chronic dental problems may have impacted the outcome of the American Revolution.
*Soldiers in the Civil War needed at least two opposing front teeth to rip open powder envelopes. Some men called up for induction had their front teeth extracted to avoid service.
*Teeth were harvested from as many as fifty thousand corpses after the Battle of Waterloo, a huge crop later used for dentures and transplants that became known as "Waterloo Teeth."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Not a dentist by profession but a humorist, Wynbrandt brings an irreverent approach to the seemingly colorless topic of dentistry. All the names and dates of important discoveries and advances in dental practice are here, but they are delivered along with an endless supply of tales ranging from the comical to the macabre. From the almost universal belief in "tooth worms" as the cause of cavities to "spirits and demons as agents of infirmity," superstitions and folk remedies throughout the world are thoroughly covered. Admitting that dentistry has historically been the domain of "incompetents, ignoramuses, quacks, and charlatans," Wynbrandt creates vivid images of medieval marketplace hucksters and "barber-surgeons" who advertised by displaying buckets of blood in their windows. Even as dentistry slowly moved into the realm of legitimate medicine, its trial-and-error practice included the use of leeches, bloodletting, urine mouthwashes, poisonous and highly addictive painkillers (including morphine and cocaine) and deadly radiation. Wynbrandt makes his point well that "we are fortunate to live in the golden era of `painless' dentistry," and indeed "a dentally pampered culture" in which cosmetic concerns have all but overtaken the practice. This is an exhaustive, entertaining history that is likely to appeal mostly to... dentists.
Library Journal
The history of dentistry is a subject not well known to patients who dread their semiannual visit. They may not realize that the temporary discomfort they face is negligible compared with the pain and distress endured by patients of previous eras. The author reports that at times dental treatments were more bloody and barbarous than beneficial. He discusses the development of dentistry as a profession, the use of different anesthetics, and the evolution of dentures and dental prosthetics, among other topics. Much of the book is devoted to anecdotes illustrating discontinued dental practices. Wynbrandt thoroughly researched this topic, but it is not likely to be of interest to the average reader. His book is more suited to collections in the history of science and medicine in academic libraries. Bruce Slutsky, New Jersey Inst. of Technology Lib., Newark
Kirkus Reviews
A breezy romp through the history of dentistry that will be excruciating only for those pained by word play, especially puns. Comedy writer Wynbrandt has fun with this one, but he has filled it with facts, too. He covers the world of tooth care from the Babylonians of 5000 b.c., worms and devils and treated them with henbane and prayer, to today's film stars with their dentist-crafted perfect smiles. Here one learns of the dental glory that was Rome (the first cavity is said to have been filled in the first century a.d.), the itinerant tooth-drawers of the Middle Ages and later eras. ("Not all tooth-drawers were crooks and deceivers. Some were merely incompetent."), the beginnings of the modern dental era in 18th-century France, and the profession's 19th-century efforts to rid itself of quacks and charlatans (the world's first dental college opened in 1840). Wynbrandt wittily chronicles the development of anesthetics, fluoride, X-rays, drills, dental chairs, and even toothpicks. George Washington's famous false teeth are, of course, discussed; so is Ulysses S. Grant's dental work and George Custer's last toothbrush. Folklore, myth, religion, movies, poetry, and advertisements—all are tapped by Wynbrandt, who quotes liberally from a variety of contemporary sources to bring his light-hearted history to life. While sensitive dentists may wince at having their profession's rough-and-tumble past revealed, dental patients are more likely to feel relief at having been born in the modern era of dentistry. Both groups are in for a good laugh.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312185763
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
04/20/1998
Pages:
248
Product dimensions:
6.45(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.03(d)

Meet the Author

James Wynbrandt lives in New York City.

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