The Excruciating History of Dentistry: Toothsome Tales & Oral Oddities from Babylon to Braces

James Wynbrandt, Author
James Wynbrandt, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-18576-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Not a dentist by profession but a humorist, Wynbrandt brings an irreverent approach to the seemingly colorless topic of dentistry. All the names and dates of important discoveries and advances in dental practice are here, but they are delivered along with an endless supply of tales ranging from the comical to the macabre. From the almost universal belief in ""tooth worms"" as the cause of cavities to ""spirits and demons as agents of infirmity,"" superstitions and folk remedies throughout the world are thoroughly covered. Admitting that dentistry has historically been the domain of ""incompetents, ignoramuses, quacks, and charlatans,"" Wynbrandt creates vivid images of medieval marketplace hucksters and ""barber-surgeons"" who advertised by displaying buckets of blood in their windows. Even as dentistry slowly moved into the realm of legitimate medicine, its trial-and-error practice included the use of leeches, bloodletting, urine mouthwashes, poisonous and highly addictive painkillers (including morphine and cocaine) and deadly radiation. Wynbrandt makes his point well that ""we are fortunate to live in the golden era of `painless' dentistry,"" and indeed ""a dentally pampered culture"" in which cosmetic concerns have all but overtaken the practice. This is an exhaustive, entertaining history that is likely to appeal mostly to... dentists. Eight pages of b&w illustrations, not seen by PW. (June)
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