During the 1780s the Swansea Valleys were being developed for the Copper Industry, when Swansea was known as Copperopolis. During this time dentistry was still
in its infancy. The only person who would per-form any dental care was the local blacksmith with the use of his pliers for a ‘painless’ dental extraction. The drawback with this was the danger of
infection, or simply the poor patient who was having their tooth pulled, would die of blood poisoning. I think I would have put up with the pain.
Those who could afford it would have paid for a tooth transplant. Yes, it’s hard to believe really, but poor children would have sold their teeth.
This is the subject matter of English artist; Thomas
Rowlandson’s painting, entitled “Transporting of
Teeth” (above). The central
scene shows a fashionably attired dentist removing
a tooth from a poor chimney-sweep with a tooth key. An aristocratic lady, who is to receive the tooth, watches with apprehension. She resorts to her smelling salts, to overcome the smell of the
To the rear of the painting, a dandy is examining his newly transplanted tooth in a mirror. Teeth were not only obtained from living underprivileged children, but they were also sourced from the
The demand for false teeth was on the up. People dreaded losing their teeth, as it would make them look older than their years. Without teeth, it was hard to speak intelligibly. At this time, 1780,
false teeth were made of ivory (elephant, walrus or preferably hippopotamus), with added human teeth. This would have cost in the region of £100 (£16,000 today).
How were these
false teeth kept in the mouth?