pulling teeth

the idiom which ends “like pulling teeth” is effective isn’t it? you can say it with feeling and you know just what it means. no elaboration necessary. it’s universal. and what single thing is the most “like pulling teeth?” why, actually pulling teeth of course. toothaches and methods of ridding oneself of them have bedeviled humanity since pre-history. everything from poppy seeds to demons to the dreaded toothworm were blamed. everything from amulets to spices to prayer to the application of a toad’s thighbone were tried as remedy. most of the time though a problematic tooth was simply knocked out, “a piece of hardwood or stone was placed against the tooth and struck with a rock or mallet.”  anesthesia wasn’t available until the 1830’s! ouch. so just how deeply has the crucible of the tooth embedded itself into the human consciousness?

is it safe to say a culture’s artwork is a relevant indicator of its values? a reflection of its concerns and obsessions? will you grant me that? if so then judging by the amount of artwork dedicated to scenes of pulling teeth i’d have to say the horrors of tooth pain have embedded themselves deeply in the human mind indeed. see below-

as it turns out dentistry and its tribulations has historically been a surprisingly popular subject for paintings and etchings. those featured above are only a handful of the images i found on the subject. (my fave has got to be the guy holding up an entire jaw bone triumphantly, with a crowd of adoring ladies looking on. haha.)

see the national library of medicine page and this french site for a large sampling. (all the above images were culled from these two sites.)

lest you get the idea that the excruciating history of dentistry is a subject limited to the visual arts i offer you the following-

ye dentist man a poem from 1899 by e.a. brinstool (there is also a five canto poem on dentistry by solymon brown called dentologia, though he was a dentists and thus is decidedly biased) and kruft! a brief history of dentistry a collection of “songs” based on the sounds of dentistry. ah such a sweet melody.

(p.s. this post is dedicated to my sweetheart who’s writhing in tooth-pain at this very moment. it’s a continuum, you are united with your ancestors, you are part of a tradition of suffering… for all the good it does. hang in there babe.) 

posted by jmorrison on 01/08 | sights & sounds - art | (0) comments | send entry