St. Apollonia was an old deaconess during Emperor Philip’s reign of Alexandria. Christians were being killed and while they fled the city, Apollonia was caught and her teeth shattered and extracted by the violent mob. Terrible! When they told her to accept their gods or burn, she pretended to gather her thoughts, then leapt into the fire, robbing them of the chance to enjoy the task themselves. Depressing, right? Don’t worry! In recognition of her devotion, the Catholic church made her the patron saint of dentistry! She intercedes for those suffering from dental pain.
Dentures of yore were made, often times, using human teeth, which, are not the kinds of things one could just pick up any old where. Most of the teeth were procured using rather dubious channels such as extracting them from executed criminals, robbing graves, and buying them from poor people. After the Battle of Waterloo, which left tens of thousands dead–a boon for denture makers–the teeth of the fallen soldiers were plucked from their mouths and sold. The resulting dentures were called “Waterloo teeth” and were sold to the wealthy toothless. Because the teeth came from soldiers who were presumably fairly young and healthy, the teeth were far less prone to give their new owners syphilis as had been a problem of some of the more questionable earlier dead people teeth.
Morton and Wells
Horace Wells was a dentist and an aspiring inventor. He invented a foot powered shower, for instance. He made a student of a young William Morton before they parted ways. In 1844, Wells took his wife to see a showman by the name of Gardner Colton who was staging a demonstration of “laughing gas,” which we now know to be nitrous oxide. The demonstration, for the amusement of the audience, involved enlisting volunteers from the audience to ingest the gas and perform functions under its effect.
Wells noticed one volunteer suffered an injury to his leg during his antics and inquired after him when the show had ended. The man looked at his leg and exclaimed that he hadn’t even noticed. Wells, ever vexed by dealing with patients in pain, approached Colton and asked for his help. The very next day, Colton administered the gas to Wells while his associate removed a wisdom tooth that had been bothering him. Wells proclaimed it painless and used it successfully for a dozen patients in the following weeks. Bolstered, he decided to stage his own demonstration at Massachusetts General. But, instead of knocking their socks off with his discovery, he was booed off stage being called a swindler after his patient moaned aloud.
Years later, his old student Morton was making claims that he had invented anesthesia. Wells, lonely and depressed, got himself in a predicament after an ether chloroform binge and threw acid on two women. Shamed and depressed, he ingested chloroform and cut his femoral artery and bled to death in jail. Today, he is recognized as the inventor of anesthesia.