Dentistry as a profession didn’t exist until the 1800s; before then you’d have to go to your local blacksmith or barber. They used the tools of their trade, pliers for instance to extract teeth – ouch! In later years the practice was overrun with ‘quacks’ who were unskilled, often overcharged and carried out unnecessary work. A visit to the dentist could be a very painful and expensive one! Indeed thousands of people died from botched treatment and infections or simply bled to death.
Regulations were introduced from the 1870s onwards and thanks to advancements in science and technology a visit to the dentist wasn’t the dangerous experience it once was. Improvements focused on trying to make it more comfortable for patients; drills were introduced to remove the rotten part of a tooth as opposed to the entire extraction, and nitrous oxide first came into use for pain relief.
Dentures were also now an option for those who had teeth removed. The invention of vulcanite, a flexible rubber in 1843 found instant application to the fabrication of dentures worldwide. It replaced the much more expensive ivory dentures and for the first time false teeth was no longer reserved for the wealthy.
Dental treatment still had to be paid for but by the early 1900s most working people had some sort of medical insurance through membership of their local friendly society or trade union. Despite this many people many people continued to experience problems with their teeth and would only visit their dentist if they were in pain. It was only with the foundation of the NHS in 1948 that our dental care became much better.