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Town tooth drawer

The town tooth drawer, c.1812-1817

Printed and published by William Davidson
Copper engraving on paper, c.1812-1817

William Davison of Alnwick (1781-1858) worked as both a printer and a pharmacist in Alnwick, Northumberland. He copied this dental print of Edward Dighton (c1752-1819) The London dentist circa 1784 and published it in Some Alnwick caricatures circa 1812-1817.

The scene shows a town house either belonging to the dentist, or he has made a house visit to his patient. She is shown with her maid present. The frock-coated and wigged dentist has a young, smiling assistant carrying an instrument case.

The dentist is shown to be wealthy, by his clothing and wig, his servant, and the possession of the case of specialist instruments, although dentistry at this time was more of a trade, than a respected professional occupation.

The mid-18th century saw the establishment in London of a new kind of practitioner, the dentist (a term borrowed from the French), who was skilled in both drawing teeth and in making artificial ones.

These dentists set up rooms and offered various dental services for the well-to-do including restorative techniques and the treatment of gum diseases, probably caused by the increasing consumption of sugar.

By 1800 there were still relatively few dentists in England: about 40 operated in London and 20 in the provinces. Patients had little way of recognising a good practitioner from the incompetent or a charlatan.