Doc Holliday was a dentist. He trained at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery (Class of 1872), one of the first dental schools in America, so he wasn’t just an old-fashioned ‘tooth drawer’.
As I lay back in the dentist’s chair this week, with my mouth full of fingers and heavy metal, I thought about the history of dentistry. We’ve taken most of the pain out of dentistry – though not the discomfort. Nowadays we visit the dentist because bad teeth are smelly and unsightly, and a source of general infections or sudden, acute pain, but few of us will ever experience the horrors of chronic, unremitting toothache. Only the very poor, for whom dentistry is still too expensive, suffer from chronic toothache and the infections that spring from untreated tooth decay.
Joseph Jenkins was a poor man who worked as a day labourer in late 19th century Victoria, walking long distances from job to job until in old age he settled down in Maldon, where he worked clearing drains for the local council. Jenkins kept a diary that is now in the State Library of Victoria, parts of which were published as A Diary of a Welsh Swagman (1975).
Jenkins had bad teeth, because ‘I abused my teeth badly when I was young through cracking nuts which grew plentifully on the farm’. Continue reading