September 8th, 2012


You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set

This is tangential to my genealogical quest, but I was struck by this reminiscence amongst my grandfather's papers:

She was a vegetarian from the date of our marriage. It was her own wish. She said that she had never felt better in her life, but she was still trying to get used to her artificial teeth, all her own having been extracted.

I'll probably have more to say about the vegetarianism at a later date, but I was certainly struck by the casual way he refers to his 25-year-old bride's toothlessness. Then I thought of Albert and Lil in The Wasteland, where it seems taken for granted that artificial teeth are going to be superior to natural ones. Finally (because I'm slow like that) I thought of my own mother, who was admittedly 38 when I was born - a good age for a mother in 1963 - but who promptly had her remaining teeth extracted, my uterine greediness for calcium having apparently reduced her molars to carious shells.

This is not the way of dentistry today. It represents the combination of two early-mid twentieth century predispositions that we have largely turned from: a) better artificial than natural (cf. formula vs. breast milk) and b) better out than in (cf. circumcision on medical grounds). The change is partly ideological, a preference for the natural having replaced our former shining faith in science and modernity; although it's too seldom acknowledged that the luxury to exercise that preference is itself largely the result of scientific and technical development (e.g. antibiotics that make it safe to keep what we might otherwise have extracted as a sensible precaution).

Anyway, I'd be interested in any reports of past attitudes to teeth (or other body parts) and the importance of keeping/discarding them. Are there significant international differences here? I'm thinking particularly of the American stereotype of the British as having bad teeth, although this seems to centre on cosmetic work rather than basic dental health.