There has been a long history of confusion regarding the efficacy of various therapeutic regimens, a fact that has often led to the success of disreputable physicians: a) many patients improve spontaneously no matter what the therapy, b) up to one third will feel better by placebo effect alone, and c), the therapist's convincing conclusion that a bad outcome resulted from the patient's sinful behavior or tardiness in seeking medical help.
During the nineteenth century, great craftsmen turned their attention to the production of dental furniture as manufacturers attempted to meet the needs of a growing population that was more able to afford dental care.
“His instruments of torture, called by courtesy dental tools, were many and varied. He was very skillful in his profession and when he took a job he did it in first-class style. The dental tools are simply copies in miniature of articles used in the Spanish inquisition and on refractory prisoners in the Tower of London. There are monkey wrenches, raspers, files, gouges, cleavers, pickes, squeezers, drills, daggers, little crowbars, punches, chisels, pincers, and long wire feelers with prehensile, palpitating tips, that can reach down through the roots of a throbbing tooth and fish up a yell from your inner consciousness. When a painstaking dentist cannot hurt you with the cold steel, he lights a small alcohol lamp and heats one of his little spades red hot, and hovers over you with an expectant smile. Then he deftly inserts this into your mouth and when you give a yell he says, ‘Does that hurt?’”
from the Chicago Herald
The demand for dentures dramatically increased in the mid nineteenth century after the discovery of anesthesia made relatively painless extractions possible.
The history of dentistry is easily revealed through the beautiful art that has recorded some of the major high points of this specialty.
Long before recorded history, medical practitioners were treating patients with potions, herbs, and incantations.
With surgical intervention unavailable until the nineteenth century, cathartics and enemas have always been a popular way of “cleaning the system” in order to maintain Galen’s humours in balance. Greek historian Herodotus commented on Egyptian customs: “They purge themselves every month, three days in succession seeking to preserve health by emetics and clysters; for they suppose that all diseases to which men are subject proceed from the food they use.”
The anatomy of the lungs and chest had been studied hundreds of years before there was an understanding of the underlying physiology and pathology. Respiratory infections were described in texts as running a “natural course,” and the mortality remained high despite the use of many different therapeutic regimens.
The development of such signs and symptoms as fever, chills, and gangrenous changes leading to death must have been mysterious indeed, and it was not until fairly recently that physicians clearly understood that infectious diseases were caused by microorganisms. It took the discovery of the microscope before anyone believed that tiny creatures could live inside us, and even when microorganisms were first seen, not many believed that the little structures they saw were alive, and certainly not the cause of illness.
The history of medicine was recorded by artisans of the past through their creations on canvas and in the workshop.