I have just come back from the dentist who cheerfully informed me that the chipmunk bulge on the right side of my face was an abscess and a tooth will need to be pulled out as well as removing and remaking the neighbouring tooth’s cap to fill in the space. I am lucky. My dentist, well trained in my personal orthodontic needs since our first meeting as young things in the late 1970′s, will put me to sleep for the tooth extraction. It made me wonder what the state and care of Joseph and his family’s teething was in the first half of the eighteenth century.
A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums (1770) is thought to be the earliest book on dentistry. Usually, whether wealthy or poor, teeth were ‘fixed’ by the local barber or blacksmith. It was only later in the century that the idea – and quackery – of implanting teeth usually ripped from the mouths of children or young adults for a few coins laid the foundation for dentistry as we now know it.
I am assuming that since Joseph was 50 years old when he died he had good set of pearly whites. There was no early death from blood poisoning due to rotten teeth or deformities in his facial features to indicate abscesses eating away into the jaw bones. The two portraits of him painted by Thomas Hudson in the 1740′s show Joseph as a jolly man who looks as though he enjoys food and comfortable living. I know from another portrait by an unknown artist that Joseph smoked so having tobacco stained teeth and a resulting questionable breath may have been normal for him. But this may have been checked the 18th century drinking fluids which were mainly fermented and alcoholic, so maybe the alcohol acted as a mouthwash against most dental bacteria.
I think it is time to leave thoughts of Joseph’s teeth, but when I write my next blog hopefully mine will be back in the pink – or is that pearly white?