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56419.  Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:41 pm Reply with quote

Q: What was the most popular gift at weddings and 21st birthdays in Manchester in 1954?

A: A full set of dentures.

Signor Menocchio has details. Can the assertion be expanded beyond Manchester and wider than just 1954, do we think?

56420.  Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:45 pm Reply with quote

The most famous character in eighteenth-century Paris, apart from the public hangman, was "Le Grand Thomas," a tooth puller who operated on the Pont-Neuf. A gigantic man seated high above the surrounding supplicants, he commanded instructions to his assistants and the "toothaches seemed to expire at his feet."

George Washington was not so lucky. He was inaugurated as president in 1789 with one tooth in his mouth, a lower left bicuspid. The Father of His Country had sets of false teeth that were made of everything but wood, from elephant ivory and walrus tusk to the teeth of a fellow human.

56421.  Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:47 pm Reply with quote

Throughout most of George Washington's life he had problems of continuing deterioration of his teeth. This caused him a lot of pain, and none of the dentists he went to knew what to do besides take them out. Slowly but surely all of Washington's teeth were extracted. In 1772 Dr. Baker of Philadelphia extracted several. Finally, George had to have false teeth made. They were made out of hippopotamus ivory and cow's tooth, carved by hand, and held in his mouth with metal springs. These false teeth were a little large for his mouth, creating a peculiar expression, which is exhibited in many of his portraits. Today, the teeth can be viewed at the University of Maryland's National Museum of Dentistry.

56423.  Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:52 pm Reply with quote

There's a possible (if tenuous) link to the 'differences' special if we do one: the difference between crocs and alligators (teeth, amongst other things) - hippos the only animals which can fight crocs by biting them in half - Washington's false teeth made from hippo ivory.

56424.  Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:56 pm Reply with quote

Q: Why would this man frighten a crocodile?

or something. Would only work if we had already seeded the business about hippos biting crocs in half.

56488.  Thu Mar 02, 2006 6:12 am Reply with quote

"Edentulous" = toothless

In Britain in 1968 79% of those aged 65-74 had no natural teeth, by 1998 this proportion had fallen to 36%.


Is fluoridation of the water supply part of the reason? In its early days fluoridation was regarded by some as a communist conspiracy (at least, in Dr Strangelove, General Ripper's plan to launch a nuclear strike against the USSR is his response to the conspiracy he perceives to contaminate the precious bodily fluids with fluoridated water - a concern triggered by an episode of impotence. Whether anyone thought this in real life, I don't know).

According to its proponents, fluoride is a medicinal additive, which strengthens teeth and bones. According to its opponents, fluoride is a cumulative poison that has adverse health effects, which can discolor teeth and actually weaken bones. ... Despite the intensity of the debate, no studies have been carried out that are sufficiently well-designed and -analyzed to settle the questions surrounding fluoridation. As the (York University Review carried out for the UK Dept of Health in 1999) notes, "No randomised controlled trials of the effects of water fluoridation were found."

Fluoridation is commonplace though not universal in the US and Canada, general in the UK and Australia, but banned in Sweden and rejected in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland and France. Fluorine occurs naturally in the water in India and Egypt.

56498.  Thu Mar 02, 2006 6:50 am Reply with quote

In the 19th and into the 20th century, didn't a lot of women have all their teeth removed, often as a gift for significant birthdays or as a wedding present, because it was a well known medical fact that this prevented many future illnesses?

Frederick The Monk
56502.  Thu Mar 02, 2006 6:57 am Reply with quote

John Eskdale Fishburn was the first person to be awarded the Diploma in Dental Surgery of the University of Malta 9in 1919) despite the fact that the university at that time provided no classes in dentistry.


Frederick The Monk
56509.  Thu Mar 02, 2006 7:08 am Reply with quote

Having perfectly healthy teeth removed was not always done with the agreement of the owner. Peter the Great famously insisted his nobles offered their services so he could practise the tooth extraction procedures he'd learnt in London. See post 33225 and post 33226 for a picture of his collection.

One of George III's painters had a similar problem:

One day during the time of Mr Boultbee's residence in Windsor Park the King [George III] told him that he was suffering from toothache and that he feared he would have to have the tooth removed. Mr. Boultbee sympathised with the King, saying that he could well understand his suffering as he himself had lately been troubled in the same way. About a fortnight afterwards the King decided that he must undergo the operation and the Royal dentist was sent for. The King took his place in the chair and all was in readiness. Suddenly he seized the dentist's hand and shouted, "Stop! Mr. Boultbee has a bad tooth, he shall have his out first!" Messengers were sent to find Mr. Boultbee and after some delay he arrived hot and flurried at the Castle when the King explained that he was to have his tooth out first.. It was in vain for Mr. Boultbee to explain that he was in no pain and had not been for some time, that in fact he did not require a dentist at all. All was useless, the King became very excited, and in the end the unlucky artist had to sit down and have a perfectly good tooth removed. He vowed afterwards that he would never condole with anyone in pain again.


56790.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 2:16 pm Reply with quote

In the 1940s, manufacturers began adding uranium to the porcelain powder used to make dentures. The idea was that the fluorescence of the uranium would help mimic the look of real teeth under a variety of natural and artificial light conditions. Uranium had the advantage over some of the alternative materials because its fluorescence is unaffected by the high temperatures (800 1400 degrees centigrade) used to bake the porcelain. According to NCRP 95, it seems that manufacturers had stopped adding uranium to porcelain dentures by 1986 or so.

56791.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 2:26 pm Reply with quote

Real teeth have natural fluorescence. If you shine a black light on your teeth they gleam a brilliant white. To give dental work the same glow, the use of uranium in dental porcelain was patented in 1942.

The timing of this was suspicious. You have to wonder if those
Manhattan Project scientists, toiling over crucibles of hot uranium, got to thinking, hey, if this atom-bomb thing flops, we can always go into teeth.

The glow imparted to false teeth by uranium was not a consequence of radioactivity. Uranium merely happens to fluoresce in the presence of UV light. Fluorescence is harmless; lots of compounds do it. Uranium's advantage was that it would survive the high heat of porcelain manufacture.

Still, you did have the problem that uranium was radioactive. In the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it occurred to the dental-ceramics industry that a substance that had destroyed cities might not be such a good thing to use in somebody's mouth. Manufacturers discussed the situation with the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s. The debate proceeded along the following lines. On the one hand, putting uranium in people's mouths might possibly give them cancer and kill them. On the other hand, their teeth looked great. It was an easy call. The industry was given a federal exemption to continue using uranium.

... the aesthetic gains achieved using uranium were slight. To see the teeth fluoresce you needed UV light, and, as one study sniffily noted, "UV lamps are used mainly in some discotheques and restaurants" frequented by "only a very small fraction of the population with these types of restorations."

... Numerous authorities urged that the use of uranium in dental porcelain be discontinued, and in the mid-1980s the federal exemption was revoked. Most dental porcelain sold today is uranium-free.

Straight Dope

795397.  Sat Mar 12, 2011 10:33 am Reply with quote

Can I ask where the answer to the intial question came from, regarding the most popular wedding gift in Manchester in 1954?

I am interested in making a short documentary about this very interesting and unusual subject! However, it is difficult to find sources of information or photographs etc.

Any help would be much appreciated

Thank you

795418.  Sat Mar 12, 2011 11:39 am Reply with quote

Hi gorillamole. Was this ever featured on the show? I can't remember. If you saw it and remember which show it was then that'll help me track down the script note.

This was five years ago, but I seem to recall having difficulty finding much detail on it, like you.

A related suggestion was that some 19th Century travellers used to have all their teeth removed before leaving home as a precaution, because an infection developed whilst abroad could be fatal.

795778.  Sun Mar 13, 2011 5:24 pm Reply with quote

The thing about George Washington having hippo teeth was in Series A Episode 11. I'm sure the stuff about being given dentures for your 21st birthday has been in the show, but I can't find it.


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