BDA Museum Head Rachel Bairsto highlights the challenges of maintaining good oral health in the Regency period.
The ‘celebrated’ Martin Van Buchell, a popular dentist during the Regency Period
The recent Netflix series Bridgerton, set in the Regency era, is brimming with sumptuous costumes opulent lifestyles and winning smiles. Yet, the sugar-laden diets and strange dental techniques of the time undermine this glamorous image. A thorough look into teeth in the time of Bridgerton tells a fascinating story.
A taste for sweet food
The decadent banquets featured in the Bridgerton series, show the changing diet of the wealthy of society in this period. They were able to enjoy richer and more refined foods and plenty of sweet and sticky treats, but unfortunately, this was all to the detriment of their teeth.
Blackened teeth and unsightly stumps were far too common. However, help was on hand from an array of practitioners skilled in making artificial replacements at this time.
Oral hygiene routines were probably pretty much non-existent, and only very basic tools for trying to keep one’s teeth clean.
We know from letters written by Jane Austen at this time,
that a trip to the ‘dentist’ was not a thing to be relished.
Dentists at that time used something called a 'dental key' to extract teeth, which is quite a fearsome looking instrument.
Walrus tusks and hippo dentures
These ivory dentures were delicately carved from materials such as hippopotamus or walrus tusks. There wasn’t a very accurate way of measuring the mouth, like we have today, so most were made in a standard one size fits all horseshoe shape.
Not only did they probably not fit very well but they could also be quite heavy. As a result they were notoriously difficult to keep in place whilst speaking, eating, or even, kissing!
Gold springs were attached in an attempt to keep them in the correct place and to keep them from falling out at awkward moments.
They also rotted in an already putrid mouth making them very smelly. Ladies would definitely require a fan to waft away bad breath.
The infamous ‘Waterloo teeth’
One such dentist was Martin van Butchell who supplied London’s wealthy with ivory dentures. He advertised his services profusely in London newspapers and was known for riding around London on his horse.
He charged the most expensive fees for his dentures. In fact he charged a whopping £105 for a full set - which would be around a staggering £4,000 in today’s money. He also, quite astutely, requested payment in advance.
To make these ivory dentures look even more realistic, dentists tried attaching human teeth to them. These human teeth were easily sourced from the recently buried dead and later from mortuaries and battlefields.
Wearing teeth from the dead might not appeal but we have to appreciate the skill involved in making these exceptional sets. They became known as ‘Waterloo teeth’ as it's likely this battle was a good source of teeth.
An amazing collection of dental objects
Our Museum holds over 25,000 items, and a selection is on display at our office in London.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we cannot welcome visitors at the moment, but you are welcome to view
our fascinating and quirky collection online.
BDA Museum Head