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Tugging at a (high) eye tooth

Tugging at a (high) eye tooth, 1821

George Cruikshank (1792-1878)
Engraving hand coloured on paper, 1821

The idea for this sketch was given by "AE" (identity unknown). George Cruikshank did the engraving.  It was published by G. Humphrey of 27, St. James' Street, London. The work shows the dentist's own rooms, which are carpeted wall-to-wall.

The dentist is engaged in a struggle to remove the lady's tooth (the eye tooth or canine) with some forceps, (the reflection of which can be seen in the mirror) while standing on a purpose-made stool and with an arm-lock round the patient's neck.

In the struggle, the female patient, in a high-backed chair, is kicking over a wash-stand on which is a hand-mirror, three tooth-scrapers, a decanter, a glass tumbler, a china pot of tooth-powder, a full set of dentures and a mallet, used to shape gold for dentures.

To the left of the scene is a bookcase, which contains a mix of real and fictitious publications with witty, entertaining titles: Lock on the Gums, Miseries of Human Life,Treatise on Tooth Powder and Brushes,Tales of Terror and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (first published in 1818).

In front of the books are a number of the false teeth, one full set and three partial. These might be either, porcelain dentures, or carved bone or ivory dentures fitted with natural teeth (known as Waterloo teeth).

Cruikshank has recreated an accurate observation of a dental surgery and associated instruments. The mid-eighteenth century saw the establishment in London of a new kind of practitioner, the dentist (a term borrowed from the French), who were skilled in both drawing teeth and in making artificial ones.

These dentists set up rooms and offered various dental services for the well-to-do including restorative techniques and treatment for gum diseases. The increase in caries during this period was caused by lack of dental hygiene, aspects of diet and increased sugar consumption.  

Cruikshank’s inclusion of a dog might be to reinforce the fact that a canine is being extracted. Hanging in the window is a row of extracted teeth of humorous shape. Perhaps a play on Frankenstein, were the scientist learns how to re-animate flesh and creates a being out of body parts taken from the dead.​