Waterloo teeth

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Last reviewed: 26/06/2013
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Last updated: 26/06/2013

Replacement teeth were traditionally made from ivory (hippopotamus, walrus or elephant). However such teeth did not always look natural and deteriorated more quickly than real teeth. If you wanted a really nice set of dentures these were made with an ivory base and then set with real human teeth. These were expensive as it could take six weeks to make a complete set. They have subsequently become known as Waterloo teeth as some were scavenged from dead soldiers on battlefields. Others were taken by resurrectionists who dug up corpses, a lucrative business. Of course contamination was an issue with the only method of sterilising being boiling water. Although this practice was more common in the earlier nineteenth century, Waterloo teeth were still appearing in dental supply catalogues of the 1860s, shipped across in barrels from the American Civil War.