False teeth, as I recall, date back to the time of the Etruscans. I’m not very clued up on the Etruscans. They were in Italy before the Romans and they made false teeth and pottery. That is all I know about them. Fortunately, a quick look on the internet and moments later I can also tell you that they seem to have been competent sculptors in stone and bronze and that they are linked to the modern day Cornish population by DNA. They fought a war against the Romans, but eventually ended up being absorbed by Rome.
After the Etruscans there seem to be no more false teeth until the 1700s. The spread of sugar started a decline in dental health and though it’s possible to use many things for making dentures, human teeth are very convenient. Though it’s a widely used term, many Waterloo teeth predate the battle (there is a record of George Washington’s dentist importing barrels of teeth from other battlefields as early as 1805) and many came from grave robbery or the mouths of hanged men. Even in 1815 marketing would seem to be a feature. It seems strange now that anyone would want teeth from a corpse, but they were the best sort of false teeth and if you want to eat you do what you have to.
George Washington is widely known as a wearer of dentures, but they were not made from wood, despite being mentioned so often. You can read more about Washington and his teeth here.
The market price crashed in the 1850s as teeth from the Crimean War came onto the market in great numbers, and the export trade was reversed in the 1860s when the Americans became great producers of dead men’s teeth. That would make a great thesis for a PhD – The Effects of Warfare on the Dentures of Europe.
Fortunately, the development of Vulcanite in the mid-nineteenth century gave denture makers an alternative material, and the use of Waterloo teeth fell out of fashion.
I’m going to use another Robin picture, as a picture of teeth isn’t a great advert for a blog. The one I selected is the one that found its way into the garden Centre tea room a few years ago while I was eating scones with my sister.