Why none of my Regency characters will ever visit the dentist

I’ve been a little quieter than usual for the last few months due to some health issues. Perhaps most frustratingly, the migraines and exhaustion have prevented me from writing. The good news is that I received a diagnosis a couple of weeks ago: “Pernicious anaemia,” the doctor said. To which my helpful response was “That’s rather judgemental, isn’t it?”

When I came to read up on the condition, I realised that the term pernicious is in fact very well-deserved – this form of anaemia has been responsible for numerous deaths over the years, as well as causing dementia and psychosis (which leads me to wonder about my great-great-grandfather who ended his days in an asylum. His son’s account of having to leave him there still breaks my heart). The wonderful news for me is that these days all I need is a vitamin B12 injection on a regular basis, and I’m good to go. Or I will be; it’s going to take my body some months to recover from its current state. But given the fairly recent alternative treatment of eating raw liver three times a day, I am most definitely not complaining!

Similarly, I’m not a big fan of going to the dentist, but when I read of treatment during Regency times, I remember again how fortunate I am to be living now. The aristocracy of course could afford toothpicks, toothbrushes, tooth powders and, from the 1800s, toothpaste, whereas the poor were quite likely to visit the farrier for dental treatment, or even to part with their teeth for money. ‘Live’ teeth were more highly prized when it came to false teeth than those which had been scavenged from a battlefield or graveyard. Yet even for the aristocracy, dental treatment was not a bundle of fun:

“Extractions were by forceps or commonly keys, rather like a door key…When rotated it gripped the tooth tightly. This extracted the tooth – and usually gum and bone with it. Sometimes the jaws were also broken during an extraction by untrained people.” (BBC)

And then there was the practice of numbing the nerve of a tooth by inserting a heated wire into it, not to mention using ashes of earthworm to treat a decayed tooth. I suppose that’s better than a live earthworm, at least.

V0012094 Three scenes involving the end of a tooth extraction operati(George Cruikshank. Wellcome Library, London)

While it’s fascinating to read about Regency dentristry from a safe distance, I don’t think I’m going to be writing about any of my characters visiting the dentist any time soon. And yes, that means that even without the consumption of raw liver, I hope to be well enough to start writing again very soon.



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4 Responses to Why none of my Regency characters will ever visit the dentist

  1. Leonie says:

    Gah. Much better to stick to period clocks and sex positions!

  2. Omgosh!!! You crack me up. That is so gross about the dentist though!! Hope you feel better soon (:

    • Thank you very much! Yes, the next time my dentist mutters something foreboding about fillings, I will think about ashes of earthworm and try to convince myself how fortunate I am.

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