Dentistry and Art: The Tooth Puller

One of my many dental hobbies outside of clinical practice is the appreciation of artwork portraying dentistry.  Specifically, Baroque and Renaissance paintings showing dentists (or people pretending to be dentists) are among my favorites.  It is always a reminder of how far dentistry and dental care has come along!

The painting below is by the Dutch Baroque era painter Gerard van Honthorst (1599 – 1656).  His name is also spelled Gerrit Van Honthorst and he is frequently referred to Gherardo della Notte (Italian for Gerard of the Night).  This painting is most commonly called The Tooth Puller or The Tooth Extractor.  This masterpiece is currently in the Musee du Louvre in Paris.

Gerard Van Honhorst Painting showing a dentist pulling a tooth with onlookers and no local anesthesia

This painting is dated 1627.  Here we see a dentist standing behind the patient pulling a tooth. Note that in dentistry today, oral surgery is still performed standing up.  When I remove a tooth on a patient, I am always standing up. Notice how the dentist is not putting his knee or foot on the patient’s chest for extra leverage, contrary to today’s myths.

In the painting, we can see 5 observers, each keenly eyeing the procedure.  The graphic details make us wonder what the onlookers were thinking nearly 400 years ago.  Whatever they were thinking, we can all say that the 5 observers are glad that they are not the one in the chair!

This “tooth pulling” is being done without any numbing as the first local anesthetic, cocaine, was not used until the late 1800s.  The “dentist” is not wearing gloves. And do you think his “pliers” were sterilized beforehand?

This painting, with its graphic details, should make everyone appreciate how far dentistry has come since 1627.