People used to sell their teeth for profit. An interesting historical episode from the dark history of Dentistry.
This print is by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and is dated 1787. It is a satirical comment upon the then current and common practice of rich gentlemen and ladies of the 18th century paying for teeth to be pulled from poor men, women and children, and transplanted in their gums for money [although the dentist took the vast majority of the payment]. The dentist in the engraving is portrayed as a quack. There are even two quacking ducks on the placard advertising his fake credentials. He is busy pulling teeth from the mouth of a poor young chimney sweep. Covered in soot and exhausted, he slumps in a chair. Meanwhile the dentist’s assistant transplants a tooth into a fashionably dressed young lady’s mouth. Two children can be seen leaving the room clutching their faces and obviously in pain from having their teeth extracted. As people lost most of their teeth by age 21 due to gum disease, teeth transplants were popular for some time in England although they rarely worked.
In addition, the transmission of syphilis in the transplanted teeth was not uncommon, and since syphilis was not treatable, this real risk made the practice less and less practical and in fact life threatening, effectively killing the selling of teeth between buyers and sellers.
Thomas Rowlandson, “Transplanting Teeth,” The Wellcome Library, http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/result.html?_IXFIRST_=9&_IXSS_=_IXFIRST_%3d1%26_IXACTION_%3dquery%26_IXMAXHITS_%3d15%26%2524%2bwith%2bwi_sfgu%2bis%2bY%3d%252e%26with%2bimage_sort%3d%252e%26_IXSESSION_%3dcrHmB4NhlbN%26create_creator_name_name%253atext%3d%2522Thomas%2bRowlandson%2522%26%2524%2bnot%2b%2522Contemporary%2bclinical%2bimages%2522%2bindex%2bwi_collection%3d%252e%26_IXFPFX_%3dtemplates%252ft&_IXACTION_=query&_IXMAXHITS_=1&_IXSR_=npSLTgDywbK&_IXSPFX_=templates%2ft&_IXFPFX_=templates%2ft (accessed October 13, 2008). Annotated by Lynda Payne.
How to Cite This Source
Thomas Rowlandson, “Transplanting Teeth (c.1790) [Engraving],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #164, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/164 (accessed May 21, 2017). Annotated by Lynda Payne