Dentistry and Art: A Tooth Puller by Jan Steen

Jan Steen (b. 1626 d. 1679) was a Dutch painter known for painting daily life in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Just like today, people developed teeth problems (albeit more frequently back then), and thus dentistry was a part of everyday existence. Back then, there were no HIPAA laws nor sterilization protocols, so dentistry was frequently performed in public for all to see:

A Tooth Puller painting by Jan Steen showing a dentist

A Tooth Puller by Jan Steen, painted in 1651. Clicking on the photo will show a larger version.

The above work can be found in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands.

You see the usual onlookers featured in nearly all paintings of this era. By the looks of it, this “dentist” appears to be a travelling one, going from village to village pulling teeth.

Nearly all dental paintings of that era show one thing: tooth extractions. Back then, there was no such thing as porcelain veneers, smile makeovers, or teeth whitening. Cocaine, the first local anesthetic (and what inspired novocaine), was still 200 years away from being used in dental procedures. If you had a problem back then, that meant only one thing: that tooth was going to come out and it was going to hurt!

Aren’t we all glad that dentistry has changed in the past 350 years or so?



  1. Hi, I know this is a long shot, as this link was from 2015 but….
    I attended a Dentist today to have a planned extraction of a molar with sedation. Unfortunately after a number of tries it had to be stopped as my veins were collapsing. They used the finest needle they had but no joy. I tried the nitrous oxide, but it did nothing and my anxiety was raised after all the attempts to put the iv in. They were all extremely nice, not their fault at all. They’ve now ordered in a paediatric needle hoping this will go in and keep the veins up. My query is, if it doesn’t work, what other choices do I have? I just couldn’t do it without sedation. I also have CRPS which intensifies the pain. I’m in the UK.
    Hoping this is picked up and I can get an answer. Thanks.

    • Dee,
      Some individuals are simply difficult to get IV access. I suspect the second time around it will work. Sometimes a different day, a different size catheter, and a different nurse can make all the difference.