These Weren’t the Good Old Days

    Imagine going to the dentist and there is no anesthetic and little sterilization — a shot of whisky is your only hope for either.

    By Sarah Pratt on August 18, 2017

    The art and science of dentistry has come a long way over the past century. As the School of Dentistry celebrates its 100th anniversary, we take in the U of A Dentistry Museum Collection, where professor emeritus Geoffrey Sperber explains how things used to be. Prepare to be grateful for modern dental technology.

    1. Dig, Twist and Pull

    Meet the extraction key. The forked metal tails were forced beneath a rotten tooth, through the gums and around the roots. Then, with a twist of the wrist, the tooth was pulled from its socket. Another whisky, please.

    2. Just Add Mercury

    Dispersalloy fillings were created with the help of University of Alberta professor Ralph Yuodelis, ’55 DDS. Dentists would add mercury to these copper and silver pellets to create an incredibly strong filling.

    3. Those That Cannot Be Cleaned

    This ivory tongue scraper may look pretty, but there was no way to sanitize the ivory. (Definitely not pretty.) It was, however, part of the evolving field of dentistry. In the 1920s, modern toothbrushes replaced twigs, bird feathers and horsehair toothbrushes.

    4. Recycled Choppers

    Before Vulcanite and acrylics, artful dentists carved teeth from hippopotamus ivory because it was denser than other ivory and didn’t stink as badly. The teeth were cleaned with a dunk in port wine, hence the stains. Some dentures also contained real teeth. The larger set here is made up of teeth harvested from dead soldiers after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.

    5. It’s Just Electric

    With this Cameron’s dental lamp, you could just lie back and relax while the dentist had a peek with a lighted mirror — knowing that it provided a direct line from an electrical outlet to your mouth. Pain, however, is a powerful motivator and, while many people fear the pain of the dentist, it’s often pain itself that gets us into the chair. Thankfully, modern anesthetics, antibiotics, implements and techniques help make a trip to the dentist infinitely less painful than in years past.