Entertainment

Saturday 20 October 2018

Teeth show features Napoleon’s toothbrush and 19th century drill

The new exhibition is billed as the first to trace the evolution of ‘our relationship with our teeth’.

Improvised denture for a British prisoner of war in the 1940s (British Dental Association Museum/Philip Gierlinski)
Improvised denture for a British prisoner of war in the 1940s (British Dental Association Museum/Philip Gierlinski)

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

Dental phobia sufferers might want to stay away – a new exhibition features rotten teeth and a selection of “crude” tools once used for their extraction.

The Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition is billed as the first to trace the evolution of “our relationship with our teeth”.

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Woman's skull with severe dental plaque (Museum Of London)

“Gruesome” objects on display include a 19th century skull, complete with rotten teeth covered in severe plaque.

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19th Century barber-surgeon chair (British Dental Association Museum)

Visitors will also see a 19th century barber-surgeon chair,  for patients to sit in while enduring – with a razor and other crude tools – limb amputation and teeth pulling as well as hair trimming.

For anyone who could not afford the barber-surgeon, the blacksmith provided an alternative.

Barber-surgeons’ tools included a tooth key, a form of early forceps featuring a claw and a bolster placed against the gum.

A toothbrush, complete with silver-gilt handle, belonging to Napoleon, whose teeth were described as “bad and dirty” , is also on show.

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Napoleon Bonaparte's toothbrush (Wellcome Collection)

A photograph of Elizabeth I, whose teeth were said to be “black, a defect that the English seem subject to, from their great use of sugar”, is also on display.

Despite being plagued by toothache, she was reluctant to have treatment, until the Bishop of London volunteered to have an extraction in front of her to show how the pain was not as bad as she thought.

Also on show is the hygiene set used by Queen Victoria’s dentist and dental powders containing brick dust, charcoal, soap and salt.

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Portrait of Elizabeth I (Wellcome Collection)

A wooden “phantom head”,  set with real human teeth and used for training dentists, is also on show.

The exhibition also features a pedal-operated 19th century drill, a spittoon, dentures made from hippopotamus ivory, tooth-whitening kits, and early toothbrushes made from hog hair and badger hair.

A selection of  letters children have written to the tooth fairy are also among the 150 objects on display, in an exhibition which looks at tooth care for the rich and poor.

A section on “dental bling”  includes an ancient Mayan tooth embellished with jade and a contemporary grillz, with the item of tooth jewellery containing diamonds.

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Mayan human tooth with jade inlay (British Dental Association Museum)

The show’s curators James Peto and Emily Scott-Dearing told the Press Association that anyone suffering from dental phobia should visit.

Scott-Dearing said: “I would advise them to come and see just how far we have come.”

Peto added: “There is some scary stuff at the beginning but I hope that it lightens up at  the end and I hope they’d go away feeling more inclined to visit the dentist than they did before.”

Teeth runs from May 17 to September 16 at the Wellcome Collection, London.

Press Association

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