Dentistry and Art: Edward Hughes A First Visit to the Dentist

In the past, I have posted about 2 baroque masterpieces on dentistry (here and here) as well as a dental sketch of Mickey Mouse. So a time period somewhere in between the 1600s and 1900s made sense for another Dentistry in Art posting. The painting below is titled A First Visit to the Dentist by the English painter Edward Robert Hughes. This involves a child patient and was painted in 1866.

Painting by Edward Hughes A First Visit to the Dentist 1866
This scene appears far more civilized than what was portrayed in the Baroque paintings by Caravaggio and Gerard van Honthorst. Perhaps this is due to the difference in the era (this painting was created nearly 250 years after those). Or perhaps because the patient is an innocent young child. Or maybe it is because the procedure (a tooth extraction) has not yet occurred.

As a dentist who routinely treats children in my office in Orange, CT, I can attest that Edward Hughes captured quite brilliantly the expression on the young girl’s face. She knows exactly that something bad is about to happen – she just doesn’t quite know what. Her left hand is holding her left jaw and her mother is both consoling her but also getting ready to move her daughter’s hand out of the way. The dentist is holding the forceps behind his back – a trick I do all the time as well!

Another contrast is the fact that the dentist actually looks like a dentist! He does not look like a sadistic man as portrayed in Caravaggio’s and van Honthorst’s paintings. And while we are still not in the era of gloves or novocaine, it is a much more pleasant environment in which to receive dental treatment than previously portrayed.

I hope everyone else enjoyed this dental painting as much as I did.

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