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Clockwork picture showing a tooth extraction, France, 1850-1909

Set in the French countryside, the illustration shows a travelling tooth puller practising his trade. A drummer beats a drum to drown out the screams of the patient whose only available pain relief was probably alcohol or herbal medicines. The tooth puller and the drummer can be moved by a clockwork mechanism. Removing the tooth was one of the few treatments for toothache and tooth decay available at this time and was carried out by barber-surgeons and travelling practitioners – who often had little, if any medical knowledge. The operation was clearly something of a spectacle as a crowd has gathered around to watch. Dr Paul Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909), a doctor specialising in mental illnesses who has been immortalised in a famous painting by Vincent van Gogh, once owned this illustration. The original documentation on this object also suggests that it sustained minor damage during the bombing blitz on London in the Second World War.

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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: illustration

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