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Operators for the teeth

The 17th century saw the emergence of a new practitioner known as the 'operator for the teeth'.

Charles Allen's book, 1685They had a broader remit than toothdrawers and were defined in a contemporary dictionary as: "one skilled in the drawing of teeth and making artificial ones".

 

It is not known how many of these operators there were but it seems that they found a market for their services in fashionable parts of London.

 

Charles Allen was one of these operators and in 1685 published the first book written in English about dental treatment, The Operator for the Teeth.

 

He provides a recipe for homemade dentifrice which includes powdered coral, rose-water and the wonderful-sounding "dragons' blood". Allen says that using it only once a week will be sufficient to keep the teeth clean and white.

 

He has a section on children's teeth where he advocates lancing the gums to let teeth appear. There is also a reference to wisdom teeth.

 

Extractions were still brutal affairs with operators using pelicans, a crude instrument. Operators began to appreciate the growing demand for dentures which were traditionally made from walrus, elephant or hippopotamus ivory.

The measurements for these would have been taken with a pair of compasses. Allen recommends dogs' and sheep's teeth for transplants, though to use teeth from another human was inhumane.