Letter to the Editor

Treating teeth in the 1890s

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Dear Editor,

Most of this treatise and inspiration is taken from the Wakefield Republican article of May 8, 2014. Anything Republican has to be worth while reading , so I decided to write about early Dentists.

If your love life is somewhat normal like this Ivies', if you are tired of flying with Col. Trail, and you are exhausted from worrying about the Rapture, maybe enlightening you about 1890s Dentistry is just the thing needed to bolster your spirits.

Native American medicine men treated toothaches among their people. According to a paper on the History of Nebraska Dentistry read at the 1894 Dental Conference, there were no dentists in the interior of the state before the year 1869.

At the first Dental Conference, The Omaha Bee reported on the various proceedings of that Conference. Dr. T. L. James recalled part of the painful history of his field "in the olden times"

Dr. James had a machine which looked like a cross between a jack screw and a hand vise and said: "I had my first experience in tooth-pulling with this. It may not look well, but it is dead sure in its work. Just a twist of the wrist, a yank on the crank, and the jerker got 25 cents from the jerk, while a jagged hole in the jaw was left to heal as it would.

A lively debate took place at the conference on the advantages and disadvantage of methods to relieve pain during dental work. Dr. Johnson of Chicago "condemned the dentist who advertised the painless extraction of teeth in unsparing terms. He said that the so-called nostrams for enabling dentists to pull teeth without pain were frauds, and had caused reputable dentists more trouble than any other thing in their profession. He was greatly in favor of discarding the use of anesthetics, and thus avoiding their evil after effect on the patient.

Despite the Dentists' best efforts during the 1890s , painless tooth extraction was still a dream for most Nebraskans.

Robert Good, editor and publisher of the Valentine Democrat (my dear Republican friends can cease reading at this point) on August 13, 1896 complained: "Dear Readers, did you ever have a Dentist, one of those deft manipulators of crowbars and bradawls and monkey wrenches and other weapons of warfare, get you into a chair and dig out the roots of your molars with a grubbing hoe? And did he then hold the pieces of the necessary but sometimes obnoxious grinder before your eyes and exulting tell you that "your going to have a mighty sore jaw "? And did his words prove true and did you go around town holding the said jaw in one hand while you were wondering whether you would survive the shock?

I hope with the passage of one hundred and twenty-five years things have gotten better. With the newer anesthetics, things are much easier for the patient and Dentist. The University of Nebraska grads are among of the best.

So, if your Dentist gets out a machine which is a cross between a hand vise and a jack screw ... ask to see the date of his graduation from Dental School and pray he uses anesthetic.


Michael E. Owens, DDS

McCook, Nebraska

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  • Enjoyable read. Thank you. Many 'old' memories returned, with your words. Please indulge me mine:

    Painless GAIN

    By Arley Steinhour 052715

    Inspired by Michael E. Owens, DDS

    Dentistry, The oral science of man,

    Could make a full grown hero wail,

    When patient saw, what's held in hand,

    The 'Dentist-pain,' qualified for jail.

    The only perfect medical plan,

    Was in the hands, of Jesus, my Man,

    Perfectly painless, His word did span,

    Making all new, for those of His 'Clan.'

    The time is short that anyone need suffer,

    He's coming real soon, to take His, not scoffer,

    All one need do, is accept Redemption's Offer,

    For Eternity, His word, the Real-Pain snuffer.

    For a Thousand, still a child, age One-Hundred,

    Man lives as long as Methuselah, once more,

    Till, the 'Final Cleaning, after Satan has 'Thundered,'

    Then, Satan, and his, take all pain through Hells door.


    -- Posted by Navyblue on Wed, May 27, 2015, at 4:52 PM
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