10 Terrifying Photos Show the Early Days of Dentistry

A supposed dentist needs help from two youths as he executes a tooth extraction. Circa 1910.
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images


The history of dentistry indeed reveals some downright terrifying practices. For centuries, dentistry was the work of skilled laborers, not highly-trained doctors. Many dental procedures were carried out by barber-surgeons, medical practitioners who shaved monk’s heads and used their expertise with a blade to make a profit out of surgical procedures as well.

People frequently had their teeth pulled with no pain-killers. Furthermore, many supposed dentist would pull out teeth for any toothache-related issue, even if the infection causing the pain had already spread to the gums.

And as the history of dentistry moved into the 20th century and things started looking more like they do today, the tools and procedures grew no less disturbing.

So if you think going to the dentist today is scary, these photos show how tooth extraction was terrifying from the late 19th century to early years of the 20th century.


Mother pulling out her son’s bad tooth. 1897. Bettmann/Getty Images


A man pulls another’s tooth in a room filled with a variety of medicines. 1872.
F.G. Weller/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images


A field dentist at work during World War I. 1915.
Wellcome Library, London


At an outpatient dental clinic in India, a dentist extracts a tooth while the assistant holds the patient’s hands. 1957.
KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images


U.S. Coast Guard personnel provide medical and dental care to the Alaskan natives in the isolated village of Stebbins, pulling a tooth for one of the native women. 1950.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images


A Persian dentist extracts a tooth from a squatting patient. Date unspecified.
Wellcome Library, London


“Dental work looks painful.” 1905.
Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis/ Getty Images


A Chinese dentist in his makeshift office extracting a tooth. 1890.
Bettmann/Getty Images


A World War I dentist performs a tooth extraction.
Michael Kassube/Wikimedia Commons