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Three dental instruments in a leather pouch, England, 1800-1850

The pouch contains two iron dental keys and a pair of iron dental forceps. These instruments would have been used in tooth pulling. Dental keys or tooth keys were introduced in 1730 and became the instrument of choice for tooth pulling from the 1770s onwards. The claw was placed over the top of the tooth and the bolster, the long metal rod to which the claw is attached, was placed against the root of the tooth. The instrument was then turned in much the same way that one would turn a key to open a lock. Undoubtedly this was painful for the patient and could cause much damage to the remaining teeth. It is believed that these instruments were made and owned by a blacksmith in Leicestershire, England. Tooth pulling was carried out by a number of people, including barber-surgeons, travelling practitioners and blacksmiths. Dentistry did not become a regulated and licensed profession until the late 1800s.

Object number:

A63484

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    Glossary:

    Glossary: dental instrument set

    Set of dental instruments

    Glossary: dental forceps

    Forceps used specifically to remove teeth.

    Glossary: tooth pulling

    The removal of a tooth from the mouth. Extractions are performed for a wide variety of reasons, including tooth decay that has destroyed enough tooth structure to prevent restoration. Extractions of impacted or problematic wisdom teeth are also routinely performed.

    Glossary: dentistry

    The study, treatment and management of diseases affecting the mouth, jaws, gums, teeth and their supporting tissues.

    Glossary: dental key

    Used in dentistry to remove diseased teeth. The dental key’s ‘claw’ would be tightened over a tooth. The instrument was then rotated to loosen the tooth. This often resulted in the tooth breaking, causing jaw fractures and soft tissue damage. It has been replaced by modern forceps.