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Dental key, silver and ivory, France, 1800-1840

Dental keys or tooth keys were introduced in the early 1700s 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. This example has a single bend in the shaft, an alteration that was introduced around 1780 by Joseph Leber (1727-1808) to prevent pressure being applied to the adjacent teeth. The key was then turned as if the user were opening a lock and the tooth would hopefully be removed. Undoubtedly this operation was extremely painful for the patient who most likely had to be restrained. This example is made of silver, has an ivory handle and was probably made in France.

Object number:

A616561

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    Glossary:

    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 It has been replaced by modern forceps.