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  • Writer's pictureThe Bone Guys

A Timeline of Creepy Dental Practices

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

Halloween has been good to dentists, so we figure we’d do it a good turn back.

We’ve decided to relate the history of dentistry in the most gruesome way possible. Meaning we’ve left out all the mind-blowing, life-sustaining scientific advancements invented through the year to focus on the murderous dentists, barbaric techniques, and sharp, clumsy tools that time may have forgotten.

Have fun!

The Neolithic age: Before thinking you’re fancy with your state-of-the-art new laser drill, keep in mind that evidence stretches back to the Stone Age showing that humans are already drilling teeth. Of course, the most cutting-edge technology of the time involves flint tips and bow-drills, which originated in India and Pakistan around 7,000 B.C. to build fires. Ouch.

5,000 B.C.: In an ancient Sumerian tablet, burrowing worms are given the blame for tooth decay, an idea that endures across many different world cultures up through the early 19th century.

3100-332 B.C.: The ancient Egyptians become skilled and forward-thinking dentists, using and innovating techniques such as bridgework, jaw dislocation, abscess draining, and forging fillings, despite some fairly crude materials. But they are still not above using demon-repelling spells to address dental and medical issues. And since this is a Halloween story, let’s focus on that.

700 B.C.: Ancient Etruscans are on to the use of prosthetic teeth, which ware often made using the teeth of animals, primarily cows, to replace your lost choppers.

1 A.D.: “And will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” — Matthew 24:51.

1st Century A.D.: Ancient Greek physician Archigenes of Apamea treats friends, literal Romans, and countrymen to a mouthwash made from earthworms, spider eggs, spikenuts, and boiled gallnuts. Great. We’ve been wondering what to do with these gallnuts.

2nd Century A.D.: Christian martyr Saint Apollonia has her teeth violently extracted while being tortured to death in Alexandria. The grisly end grants her the future designation of patroness of dentistry and teeth problems. If that’s any consolation.

5th-15th Century: When ancient inquisitors really want to go medieval on someone’s ass, they torture them with a little something they called “Pulling the Tongue.” The process involves using red-hot pliers to extract a bound victim’s tongue. In case that fails to convince you to denounce your views, they might mistreat your tongue then nail it to a table. That’ll show you to go believing in stuff.

10th century: Among the many methods of medical care practiced by pioneering Arab-Andalusian surgeon Abulcasis is cautery for toothache, which involves inserting a burning hot needle into the pulp of one’s tooth. Yowzers.

12th century: The dental pelican is invented to pull teeth and it looks like this.

1552: “Weak and decaying teeth are first to be punctured with the tooth of a corpse.” — Badianus Manuscript: An Aztec Herbal

1500’s: Ambroise Paré, the barber-surgeon who serves four French kings and is considered one of the fathers of surgery, writes: "Toothache is, of all others, the most atrocious pain that can torment a man, being followed by death.”

1599: “For there was never yet a philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently,” William Shakespeare writes in Much Ado About Nothing. Around the time of the Bard’s death, toothache leads to death for one in ten Londoners.

1700: A common practice for post-extraction European elites was to replace a pulled tooth with one purchased from a willing seller. Or one yanked from an even more willing corpse. Something they just so happen to have on hand a lot in those days.

1730: The dental key is invented and it goes into your mouth and it looks like this.

1776: These are George Washington’s false teeth. And they were apparently an improvement on his originals, which he began losing at the age of 24.

1800’s: There’s essentially no such thing in existence as a dentist’s license, nor a need to acquire one, meaning literally anyone can hang a shingle and go to town on your pearly whites with a toolbox and any form of unreliable anesthesia they dare deploy. And just to make a bad scene worse, patients are strapped down to endure painful operations.

1864: Is this a wind-up drill or a pencil sharpener? And let’s not even get into this Civil War-era forcep/drill combination.

1879: Delaware dentist Samuel Chalfant “accidentally” shoots business rival Josiah Bacon in San Francisco over paying patent fees for rubber dentures, killing him.

1905: The Wilcox-Jewett Obtunder is first released and used to inject patients with such painkillers as.... oh, let’s see here... COCAINE!

1927: Glennon Engleman is born in St. Louis. The local dentist and hitman would go on to kill seven people for money, using methods as far ranging as explosives and a sledgehammer.

1983: Costa Mesa’s own Dr. Tony Protopappas is arrested for the deaths of three women, ages 13-31, after administering overdoses of anesthesia, a practice he admits to using as a way of moving patients through procedures more quickly.

1989: Serial Killer Ted Bundy is found guilty of murder in his first trial, with significant credit going to two forensic dentists who were able to compare Bundy’s teeth to bite marks left on one of his victim’s bodies.

1996: Ottawa dentist Roman Rezanowicz strangles his wife for insurance money before staging it to look like a suicide. He kills himself in prison in 2015.

2016: Dallas dental hygienist Brenda Delgado has her ex boyfriend’s new girlfriend, dentist Kendra Hatcher, shot and killed by two hitmen. She avoids capture, hiding in Mexico until appearing on America’s Most Wanted.

2020: 51-year-old millionaire dentist Gabriel Wortman goes on a 13-hour killing spree across Novia Scotia, killing 22 people and setting 16 fires in what is considered “the deadliest rampage” in the country’s history.

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