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
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 advertisementsall 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.