If you don't like going to the dentist today, then thank God you didn't have to go to the dentist in 18th Century Britain.

This was, after all, the days before anaesthetic. A book written in 1770 by Thomas Berdmore, who was the dentist to King George III, gives helpful tips to give you a better smile, including encouraging children to chew on coral or wax....

'You'll need a strong pair of crooked pliers': The 18th century dentist's guide to 'a brilliant smile'

By David Wilkes
18th November 2008
Daily Mail

Those with a phobia of the dentist should perhaps stop reading now.

If the drilling and filling procedures of the modern-day surgery make you wince, spare a thought for the toothache sufferer of the 18th century.

Even those treated by the most eminent practitioners were in for an agonising time, according to a rare book about the dental techniques of the period.

Having your teeth removed in centuries past was a real pain, as this painting entitled The Tooth Extractor by Theodor Rombouts shows

Written in 1770 by Thomas Berdmore, who was considered to be the outstanding dentist in England, it makes eye-watering reading.

Addressing the subject of 'how to bring teeth which are ill into beautiful order', he wrote: 'Pass gold wire from the neighbouring teeth on either side, in such a manner as to press upon what stands out of the line.'

The alternative, Berdmore suggested, was to 'break the teeth into order by means of a strong pair of crooked pliers'.


Berdmore, known as 'Operator for the Teeth' to King George III, also recalled being summoned to examine a patient left in a 'terrible state' by a botched extraction.

He wrote: 'A young woman aged 23 went to a barber dentist to have the left molaris tooth of the upper jaw on the right side taken out.

' On the second attempt he brought away the affected tooth together with a piece of jawbone as big as a walnut and three neighbouring molars.'

Pages from Thomas Berdmore's 'A Treatise On The Deformities And Disorders Of The Teeth And Gums'

The book, called 'A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums and the Most Rational Methods of Treating Them', is thought to be the earliest English-language work on the art of dentistry.

Berdmore encouraged youngsters-with milk teeth to 'chew upon coral, wax and suchlike bodies'.

Addressing the problem of toothache, he recommended 'astringent liquors rendered slightly acid by orange, lemon juice or vinegar'.

He is widely acknowledged as the first dentist to warn in print that sugar could be bad for the teeth, and he was also ahead of his time with his observation: 'I am inclined to think that smoking is hurtful to the teeth.'

He also noted: 'The smell imparted to the breath by dirty rotting teeth, is generally disagreeable to the patients themselves, and sometimes extremely offensive to others in close conversation.'

A copy of the book, bound in its original calfskin covers, was recently discovered at a valuation day by auctioneer Charles Hanson and will be sold at auction at the Mackworth Hotel, near Derby, on November 26. It is expected to fetch around 300.

Mr Hanson said: 'Its true worth is in the snapshot it provides of medicine at that time.

' We might complain that we have it bad now in certain ways, but being a dental patient back then doesn't really bear thinking about.'