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Ivory dentures

Ivory – elephant, walrus or preferably hippo – was traditionally used to make dentures.

Three stages of carving an ivory denture




















This element of dentistry was often undertaken by people with a technical, rather than medical, background, such as clock, or watch makers. 

As can be seen, the molars were only roughly formed. Of course getting the dentures to stay in place was a major concern. 

Trying to measure the mouth was difficult, either using a pair of compasses or using a piece of card to draw an outline. It was difficult to carve the ivory to fit well over the whole palate so upper sets were normally horseshoe shaped. 

Full lower sets were weighted to help gravity. To help upper sets stay in place springs were attached to the bottom set and the spring thus pushed the upper set upwards. 

Partial dentures were either tied on to surrounding teeth with a thread of metal or silk, or carved with holes to slot around remaining teeth.

BDA Museum: dental heritage

The BDA Museum has one of the largest collections of dental heritage in the UK. Spanning the 17th century to the present day, highlights of the collection include dental chairs, drills, oral hygiene products, and the infamous 'Waterloo' teeth. Pop in and see for yourself!