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.

Dentistry and Art: Caravaggio The Tooth Puller

This dental masterpiece happens to be one of the most famous paintings by the Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio (Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 1571 – 1610).  It is also one of my favorite Baroque paintings depicting dentistry.  The Tooth Puller is believed to have been painted in 1609.  As a painting known worldwide, it has different names in different languages, including The Tooth Puller and Il Cavadenti and L’arracheur de dents and Der Zahnzieher.

The “dentist” here is pictured with a slight smile or even smirk on his face.  The onlookers – from the very young boy at left foreground to the older individuals – look on with both anxiety and curiosity.  There is some light in the room, presumably from candles or a fireplace. The woman on the right, with her sunken-in profile indicating she likely has no teeth herself, is probably comparing her experiences having teeth extracted to this scene.  The “patient” is grabbing the chair with one hand and his left hand is open and stiff. He is in obvious pain from the tooth extraction.

The Tooth Puller by Caravaggio, Il Cavadenti, Der Zahnzieher, L'arracheur de dents

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Dentistry and Art: Mickey’s Toothache

I recently posted about the depiction of dentistry in Baroque art. Let’s fast forward approximately 400 years to something more recent, although this “art” is still from 1938!

The archivists at Disney just released a 1938 sketch of Mickey Mouse experiencing what can only be described as a dental adventure.  The artist Ferdinand Horvath completed the piece for Disney in April 1938.  The sketch was apparently found in a folder with other material in the Disney Archives in California.  As a bit of history, Mickey made his debut in 1928 and had already been featured in comic strips and several movies by the time this sketch was being illustrated.  Fantasia, with its psychedelic influences, was due to be released in 1940, with Mickey Mouse playing a role in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

1938 sketch of Mickey being chased by the dental chair and a dentist

Newly released sketch from Disney called Mickey’s Toothache featuring Mickey Mouse, a dental chair, and a dentist wielding pliers. Image is courtesy of Disney Archives.

The sketch, titled “Mickey’s Toothache”, shows a younger looking Mickey Mouse.  He has a towel wrapped around his head to suggest he has a toothache and his cheeks appear swollen. He is running away from a dental chair whose “arms” have a firm grasp on him. An unidentified character playing the role of the dentist is in hot pursuit despite having what looks like a wooden leg. The “dentist” has both a pair of pliers and a saw.

If you look closely at the sketch, specifically at the back of the chair, you can see where the chair had initially been drawn in and then subsequently erased. It makes you wonder what the sketch initially looked like.

I could probably write much more analyzing all the nuances of this sketch and how it portrayed dentistry back in 1938.  But one generalization can be made:

Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist holding a dental drill

Steve Martin with a drill, 1986.

Up until the development of the air powered dental handpiece (a.k.a dental drill), the most dreaded instrument of the dentist was the forceps (a.k.a. pliers).  With the introduction of the drill and its characteristic noise, the forceps have been replaced by the drill as the “most dreaded dental instrument” that is depicted in the mainstream media.

So the real question is this: if Disney were to make a short cartoon called Mickey’s Toothache 2013, would it involve a drill? A large needle? Forceps? I suspect it would involve a drill.


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.