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Oral hygiene set

People owning oral hygiene sets from the late 1700s show that the influence of doctors and the newly-emerging profession of dentists were having some impact, with people starting to think about taking care of their teeth.


This personal-hygiene set contains everything a wealthy gentleman or woman of the early nineteenth century needed to look after their teeth at home. 

Toothbrushes had begun to be mass produced at the end of the eighteenth century, using bone for the handles, but for those who could afford a personal-hygiene set handles were made from more-expensive materials such as silver gilt and mother-of-pearl. 

The owner of such a brush would not have wanted to throw it away once the bristles were worn out so replacement pads of bristles were also available. 

They were made from natural fibres such as horse hair, pigs’ hair or, more expensively, badgers’ hair, set into bone or ivory. 

This hygiene set has a double toothpowder box, a design that first appeared in the 1780s. Perhaps the two compartments were for different types of powder. 

Sadly the dentifrice chosen to go into this box may have done more harm than good. Thomas Berdmore (c.1740 to 1785), dentist to George III, brushed a single tooth held in a vice with one of the popular powders of the day. Within an hour he had worn away the enamel.

This set also contains two scalers with differing ends. Just as with some oral-hygiene sets today, patients were expected to remove tartar themselves. 

Another tool in the set is a combined earwax scoop and toothpick with three blades safely stored inside the mother-of-pearl handle. The frequent references throughout history to toothpicks and their users, from Nero to Elizabeth I, shows they were popular long before the fashion for toothbrushes took hold. 

The Talmud recommends a splinter of wood and the Ancient Greeks used wooden toothpicks, quills and straws. Tongue scrapers, too, have often been an essential item in a person’s toilet set. They came in many different designs including the simplest of all designs, a strip of silver or silver gilt that the user had to bend into a bow between thumb and index finger.

All these items are contained within a beautiful velvet-lined leather case complete with mirror to help with the oral-hygiene regime. 

However it is unlikely that this set was ever used because the inlaid brass shields on the instruments have not been inscribed with any owner's crest or monogram.

BDA Museum: dental heritage

The BDA Museum has one of the largest collections of dental heritage in the UK. Spanning the 17th century to the present day, highlights of the collection include dental chairs, drills, oral hygiene products, and the infamous 'Waterloo' teeth. Pop in and see for yourself!