Dentistry in the dark days before novocaine


1 Like

Before novocaine, didn’t they have real cocaine? That’ll do in a pinch.

1 Like

We learned in GCSE history that alcohol was often used for dentistry and surgery, but was often considered wimpy.

1 Like

You people and your silly anesthetic. Try Soviet dentistry on for size - no x-rays, no nitrous oxide, no novocaine - just a hellishly long wait, with a giant drill to look forward to at the end.

Silly dentists – they help keep things clean…

One NPR story from ages ago that sticks in my head… An entomologist who studied bot flies had a larva in the palm of his hand and then he didn’t see it, so he assumed that it had dropped to the floor or something… Quite a while later, he had some pain in his mouth and the dentist thought that he had an abscessed tooth, so he pulled it out. Nestled underneath the tooth was a big ol’ bot fly maggot.

Which brings me around to when I had an abscessed tooth (a big molar) as a kid and the dentist pulled it without any Novocaine (some mix-up with the assistant) – I don’t recall much, because I must have passed out pretty quickly.

Dentistry without novocaine would be a dark time indeed. But apparently long before even the dreaded “dark ages” there was a time when teeth may have been in better shape and possibly didn’t require dentistry.

Our Ancestors Had Much Better Teeth

They also used to do tooth transplants for those missing their own. The implanted teeth in may have been yanked off a corpse, pulled because they needed it, or sold by the poor. Even [George Washington][1] tried it out:

The following year, in May of 1784, Washington paid several unnamed “Negroes,” presumably Mount Vernon slaves, 122 shillings for nine teeth, slightly less than one-third the going rate advertised in the papers, “on acct. of the French Dentis [sic} Doctr. Lemay [sic],” almost certainly Le Moyer. Over the next four years, the dentist was a frequent and apparently favorite guest on the plantation. Whether the Mount Vernon slaves sold their teeth to the dentist for any patient who needed them or specifically for George Washington is unknown, although Washington’s payment suggests that they were for his own use.

For some reason they skipped over Washington implanting his slaves’ teeth in his jaw in my high school history class.


…But no michaelcaine

1 Like

Of course the use of ether as an anesthetic was pioneered by a dentist more than 50 years before novacaine.

Ah, but 'tis a general anesthetic, rather than a localized, so it doesn’t earn the suffix -caine.

Wikipedia tells us that diethyl ether had been synthesized for a good 800 years before its properties as an anesthetic had been realized.

Thanks to you, this was read in my head by Michael Caine…

“Is it SAFE?”

1 Like

What bothered me as a kid, was watching The 3 Stooges go to the dentist.
The sound effect of teeth being pulled really bugged me.

I never had a tooth pulled, but all my dentistry before the age of 18 was without pain control. Not even that stuff that’s like prescription strength anbesol. Apparently my mom was under the impression that the dentist was using it, but he just didn’t. I bit him. Many times.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.