Der zahmbreder

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Last reviewed: 21/06/2013
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Last updated: 21/06/2013

Der zahmbreder

In the style of Adrian van Ostade (1610-1685)
Oil on canvas

During the 17th century, Dutch artists painted scenes of everyday life such as rural activities, street scenes, home life and traders, which provide many insights into the daily life of citizens of all classes.

This 17th century Dutch painting depicts a dental operation. A tooth operator works on his patient in a room furnished with scientific instruments. There is a skull and various potions and a small pile of books. The dentist wears unusual clothing; a bright red hat, blue coat and apron. This suggests that the practitioner was perhaps a learned man with some skill and training rather than a travelling quack or charlatan. Blood drips from the patient’s mouth as the dentist tries to perform an extraction.

This was a brutal time for the toothache sufferer, as the main treatments available were dubious toothache remedies and extraction. Dental treatment such as extractions and tinctures were offered by barbers, barber-surgeons, the marketplace charlatan, the toothdrawer, and later the operator for the teeth. Oral hygiene was very basic. Dental treatments comprised tinctures and styptics. Extraction was a last and painful resort.