Open wide

Open wide!

Back-street horror of Victorian London dentistry exposed in grim photos from a time when a toothache would mean a painful trip to the barber

In 19th and early 20th Century dentistry was done by barbers and blacksmiths
Tooth decay was common but the ‘surgeons’ would yank teeth out with forceps

Tens of thousands of people died from botched treatments and infections
Many people still find a trip to the dentists a daunting prospect these horrific Victorian photos reveal a time when getting your teeth fixed was a real life-or-death procedure.

Just like today, tooth decay was an unpleasant part of life, but for the most of 1800s and early 1900s, extraction was the only treatment available.

Most people who found themselves with toothache ended up in the hands of their local barber or blacksmith, who doubled as a surgeon.

These amateur ‘surgeons’ would use pliers or forceps to extract the rotten tooth – without any anaesthetic to ease the agonising pain

For most of the 19th century, dentistry was a back-street horror show in Britain until the Dentists Act was passed in 1878 – which limited the title of ‘dentist’ and ‘dental surgeon’ to registered practitioners.

The remarkable surviving images dating back to the 19th and early 20th century, reveal the terrors of Victorian dentistry – and show just how dangerous and agonising a visit to the dentist could be.

In one 1855 photo, the patient desperately stares into the camera clutching on to his dentist’s arm as he pulls out his tooth with pliers.

And in another excruciating 1892 image, an assistant has to physically restrain the distressed patient whilst the dentist tries to perform an extraction on him.

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