Dentistry and Art: The Dentist by Pietro Longhi

Pietro Longhi was a Venetian painter who lived from 1702 – 1785. He primarily painted contemporary scenes and daily life of residents of Venice in the mid 1700s.

Pietro Longhi the Dentist oil Painting showing a tooth extraction in the 1700s in Venice

The Dentist, sometimes also referred to as The Tooth Puller or Il Cavadenti, painted approximately 1750. Clicking on the image will show a larger version

This painting does not include the gory scenes as depicted in works by Caravaggio or Gerard van Honthorst. Rather, it elevates the “dentist” into somewhat of a magician-like figure. But, similar to other works, it shows the dentist having just pulled a tooth. Other procedures (root canals, crowns, etc) that we associated with modern dentistry have not yet been invented.

There are several masked individuals and a person of small stature is at the foreground. All of this suggests some type of Venetian Carnival type atmosphere.

On a lighter note, there are three individuals, probably early teens, looking up and admiring the dentist. Based on this viewpoint, doesn’t it appear that they are holding smartphones and taking pictures?

Pulling Your Own Tooth?

Basketball star Reggie Evans photo loose tooth that he pulls

Basketball Star Reggie Evans after he pulled his own tooth.

As a dentist, I’ve heard lots of stories from patients. And I’ve seen lots of YouTube videos where people perform dentistry on themselves. And I have, on occasion, had to treat a patient in pain in my practice in Orange, CT after they attempted dentistry on themselves. So this incident piqued my interest when one of my patients told me about it.

On April 6, 2013, Brooklyn Nets player Reggie Evans was setting up for a rebound and was headbutted by an opponent. The headbutt significantly loosened one of his front teeth. Then several seconds later, he pulled his own tooth, and placed it on the coaches table. The photo above shows Reggie shortly after he pulled the tooth when he began to bleed from the extraction site.

Within one minute of the incident, he fists bumps another player, and then jumps back in the game. Below is the YouTube video from the incident:


Athletes Behaving Badly?

No one can dispute that Reggie was demonstrating a 100% commitment to his team and to his sport (at least in this instance). But does he set a precedent that pulling a tooth or doing dentistry on yourself is “cool” given the way many look up to and emulate professional athletes?

vice grips used to pull teeth if you do it yourself

Unsterilized vice grips from my basement.

As I mentioned before, on multiple occasions, I have treated patients who thought it would be either “funny” or “cool” to pull their own teeth or do other dental procedures. They’ve told me about the vice grips or pliers they used.

In all of those instances, the patients ended up in severe pain and suffered significant complications. One patient even pushed a piece of his tooth into his sinus and required invasive sinus surgery to have it removed!

Reggie most likely sought professional dental care after this incident. We’ll never know what complications he suffered. So, in spite of the fact that Reggie looked cool pulling his own tooth, it is not recommended!

What will Reggie do next? He will most likely need a dental implant at some point to replace his missing tooth. But we also recommend that he not “behave badly” and set a dangerous example for NBA fans.

Dentistry and Art: Lambert Doomer The Dentist

I’ve featured baroque dental paintings in the past, including masterpieces from Caravaggio and Gerard Van Honthorst. This is another baroque piece but it is a pen and ink drawing as opposed to oil on canvas. This is from the Dutch painter Lambert Doomer (1623 – 1700).

Lambert Doomer painting drawing of dentist from baroque era

High quality electronic reproduction of this drawing. Clicking on the image will yield a much larger version.

There are several interesting observations about this piece. First, we notice that the “dentist” is seated behind the patient with his assistant to his right. The assistant is ready to hand the “dentist” a vial and ensures that the three of them are underneath the umbrella. The ergonomics of this scene are very similar to the way dentistry is practiced now.

Secondly, the “dentist” also has a sword on his belt! I can only hope for the patient’s sake that the “dentist” isn’t planning on using it! I can assure you that if I wore a sword on my belt while practicing dentistry, I wouldn’t be in business for too much longer.

Lastly, we see the basket of eggs at the feet of the patient. This is typical for this era, as eggs were frequently used as payment for services of this kind back then.

This artwork, along with many of the other pieces I’ve posted in my Dentistry and Art series, should make us glad we live in 2013!

Dental MythBuster #8 – Having an Eye Tooth Pulled Will Cause Blindness

I have only come across this dental myth a couple of times in my career. But this fable is out there and some people actually believe it! In this Dental MythBuster, we bust the following crazy myth:

Having an eye tooth (canine) pulled will lead to blindness

Let’s explore how this dental myth originated and then we will thoroughly debunk it.

Why a Canine tooth is called a Canine

Lower canine teeth on a dog

Long lower canines on a dog. Photo courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.

Before we explore this myth, we need to understand why a canine is often called an eye tooth. But even before that, why is a canine tooth called a canine? A canine, also called a cuspid, earned its name because of the resemblance to the long, sharp canine tooth of a dog.

Now unless your last name is Dracula, your canines do not look like the dog on the right. If you look at your own teeth in the mirror, you should see slightly sharpened tips on both your upper and lower canines. And they are also in the same approximate position as the canines in a dog. So for all these reasons, those teeth are called canines.

Why Canines are Called Eye Teeth

Canine is called an eye tooth on this photo because you draw a line from the canine to the eye

Upper canine with a line drawn towards her left eye.

When you smile, your upper canine is oriented in such a way that a line drawn along the long axis intersects with your eye on the same side. This is true for most people. If you can see a prominent tip on your own canines you should try to visualize this on yourself.

The photograph to the left demonstrates this nicely with a red line going from the canine towards the mid point of the left eye. We could do the same on her right side too.

It is because of this anatomical orientation and relationship that a canine is called an eye tooth.

Removal of a Canine and Blindness?

So how did this myth originate? I have three theories:

Photo of a canine or eye tooth for the dental mythbuster on how losing an eye tooth causes blindness

Loss of this tooth leading to blindness? I don’t think so!

  • Since a canine is called an eye tooth, you could incorrectly assume that removal would lead to loss of sight in that eye.
  • The nerves and blood vessels supplying the eye tooth are similar in location and origin to those supplying the eye. You could incorrectly conclude that if you remove the tooth, the nerves and blood vessels going to the eye would be removed too.

These two theories don’t make a lot of sense. But, I suppose some people could have believed them at one point. My final theory is based on a fact:

  • In the era before antibiotics and modern medicine, upper tooth infections often did spread to the eye as well as the brain, leading to blindness and death in some cases.

This fact could also lead people to incorrectly believe that loss of the canine could make you go blind.

Dental Myth Busted!

The three theories posted above show why people may have incorrectly believed in this myth. But you can’t hide from the truth, which is:

There is no physiological relationship between an upper canine and the eye that would cause blindness upon removal of that tooth.

There are consequences to tooth loss but none of them involve your eyesight. In my practice in Orange, CT, I always recommend a dental implant when a patient is going to lose a tooth. But my treatment recommendation is based on facts and not on hearsay, and certainly not on a dental myth like this!

I hope you enjoyed this latest Dental MythBuster.