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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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who Took Over Dr. Baker's Dental Practice?

After John Baker left Boston for colonies to the south, as described in yesterday’s posting, other “surgeon dentists” arrived from Europe, but none seem to have stayed long. Rather, a couple of locals adopted his methods.

During his time in Boston, Baker taught some of his techniques to Isaac Greenwood (1730-1803), a craftsman living on Salem Street next to what’s now called Old North Church. Greenwood made umbrellas and tools, and was an “ivory-turner”—hence the affinity for tooth repair. His apprentice Samuel Maverick was the youngest fatality of the Boston Massacre.

Greenwood in turn passed his knowledge to his sons William P. (1756-1851), Isaac, Jr. (1758-past 1806), and John (1760-1819), who advertised their dental services in Boston, Salem, Providence, Savannah, New York, and other towns in the early republic. Like Baker, they often had to travel to find enough clients to support themselves.

John Greenwood is known in dental history for inventing a treadle-powered drill, reportedly inspired by his mother’s spinning-wheel (though he was probably also familiar with his father’s lathes). At the age of fifteen, John had enlisted in the American army as a fifer, and I’ve quoted some passages from his memoir The Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York, 1775-1783 here on Boston 1775.

But the most direct pitch to Bostonians who had come to rely on John Baker’s dental techniques appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on 5 Sept 1768:

Whereas many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their Fore Teeth by accident, or otherways, to their great Detriment, not only in Looks, but Speaking, both in public and private:—

This is to inform all such, that they may have them replaced with false Ones, that look as well as the Natural, and answer the End of Speaking, to all Intents, by PAUL REVERE, Goldsmith, near the Head of Dr. Clarke’s Wharf, Boston.——

All Persons who have had false Teeth fix’d by Mr. John Baker, Surgeon Dentist, and they have got loose (as they will in Time) may have them fastened by the abovesaid Revere, who learnt the method of fixing them from Mr. Baker.
Revere turned to dentistry when his goldsmithing business had fallen off due to economic doldrums and boycotts. Because he focused on building false teeth and cleaning teeth, he could apply his existing skills in metalwork and, well, scraping. Jayne Triber’s biography A True Republican notes that Revere stopped advertising his dental services in 1770, after he began to earn more from other tasks—including engraving “cane heads” for ivory-turner and fellow dentist Isaac Greenwood.

TOMORROW: Pulling teeth in colonial Boston.

1 comment:

Robert S. Paul said...

It's amazing that, aside from a drill and a vacuum, dental tools are exactly the same today. And even the drill has been used for a pretty long time, now.