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Plaque showing dental and surgical operations, Europe, 1801-1900

Carved from oak, this plaque shows a painful tooth pulling in progress while another man undergoes a surgical treatment to the head. There were no modern anaesthetics at this time so both men would have been in a great deal of pain. The plaque may have been modelled on a shop sign used to advertise a barber-surgeon’s business or the skills of a travelling practitioner – who may have had no more than the most basic of medical skills. Shop signs have traditionally used pictures instead of words in times when many potential customers could not read.

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    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: anaesthetic

    An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).

    Glossary: plaque

    An ornamental tablet of metal, porcelain etc that depicts a person, scene or inscription. Often fixed to a building in commemoration of a person or notable historical occurence.