J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

John Baker: "Operator for the Teeth"

I had some minor oral surgery this afternoon, so I’m wondering when I’ll eat solid foods again and if I can survive entirely on soft ice cream until then.

To take my mind off my own teeth, I did some poking around among other people’s teeth. This advertisement appeared in the Boston Post-Boy on 30 June 1766:

John Baker,
Operator for the Teeth, &c.
Begs Leaves to acquaint the Gentry, that he is now in Boston, at Mr. Joshua Brackett’s in S[c]hool Street, and will wait on them, on receiving their Commands.
In other words, this dentist made house calls.
He cures the Scurvey in the Gums, first cleanes and scales the Teeth, from that Corrosive, Tartarous, Gritty Substance which hinders the Gums from Growing, infects the Breath, and is one of the principal Causes of the Scurvey, and by degrees (if not timely prevented) eats away the Gums, so that many Peoples Teeth fall out Fresh.

He fills up with Lead or Gold those that are hollow (so as to render them useful) and prevents the Air getting into them, which aggravates the Pain.

He makes and fixes Artificial Teeth, with the greatest Exactness and Nicety, so that they may eat, drink, and sleep with them in their Mouths as natural ones, from which it cannot be discovered by the sharpest Eye.

He having given sufficient Proof of his Superior Judgment in this Art, to the principal Nobility, Gentry and others, of Great-Britain, France & Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe.
Of course we must ask: if Dr. Baker had such a busy and wealthy clientele in Europe, why was he trying his fortunes in a distant colony?

Baker also had a toothpaste or tooth-powder to sell, and it seems to do all that modern toothpastes promise and more:
His Dentifrice, which is free from any corrosive Preparation will restore the Gums to their pristine State, will preserve the Teeth, and render them perfectly white, will fasten those that are loose, and prevent them from further decay.

N.B. His Dentifrice may be had at his Lodgings at ONE DOLLAR each Pot, with proper Directions.
Baker then went on to list many items of jewelry that he had brought from London to sell.

TOMORROW: Baker tries out some other colonies.


Robert S. Paul said...

They put lead in people's teeth? That might explain a lot....

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, between fillings, pipes, pewter plates, paint, and other sources, people probably had a lot more lead in their system than we'd be willing to tolerate now. But nearly everyone was in the same boat, I guess.