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Dentistry during the Civil War

Discussion in 'Medical Care of the Civil War' started by donna, Mar 15, 2011.

  1. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    About two decades before the Civil War, the dental profession had gained some standing. In the Confederate states there were about 500 Dentist. Jefferson Davis had always been an advocate for a dentistry corps. As Secretary of State under President Pierce, he had called for such a Corps but never was one in U.S. Army.

    After outbreak of War, the Confederate Army established a Dental program. The Union Army rejected one. Confederate Surgeon General Moore as well as Jefferson Davis was supportive of the idea of Army dentists. The dentists stated they owed more to Moore "than to any man of modern times".

    Soldiers tended to neglect basic care of their teeth. Toothbrushes were scare and they had inadequate diets. Dental operations were very expensive for the common soldier. A soldier's teeth were important on the battlefield. Many recruits were turned down if they lacked six opposing upper and lower front teeth. These were considered necessary to bite off the end of the powder cartridges used with the muzzle loading rifles of the time.

    Many Dentists were accorded the rank of hospital stewart. Though some could be full surgeons. Medical Director, William a. Carrington, CSA, commented that dentists "plugged, cleaned, and extracted teeth", in addition to "adjusting fractures of the jaw and operating on the mouth". A Richmond Dentist, Dr. W. Leigh Burton, commented that his days were filled of "twenty to thirty filings, the preparation of cavaties included, the extraction of 15 or 20 teeth, and the removal of tartar ad libitum".

    Dentist, Dr. James B. Bean who was from Atlanta, Georgia made significant contributions to the treatment of fractured maxillary bones. Bean invented an interdental splint made of vulcanized rubber that had cup shaped indentations for teeth. His splint was a great success and he was sent to Richmond where his sprint was used for treatment at the Recieving and Way Hospital.

    The Confederacy should be praised for it's Dental Corps. In Jan., 1864 the Confederacy began conscripting dentist. This gave the Confederate soldier a small advantage over the Union soldier, as all attempts at the Union Dentistry Corps was turned down.
     

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  3. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    Dr. W. Leigh Burton (1830-1892) was a Captain in Confederate Army, dentist and inventor. He was first with Quartermaster Dept. at Fredericksburg. In 1864, he worked at Richmond Hospitals as dentist. After the war, he continued working as a dentist and invented the Burton Electric Heater. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

    Dr James Baxter Bean (1834-1870) was the most important dental surgeon of the Civil War. After the outbreak of the war, Bean moved to Atlanta where he offered his services to the Confederate medical authorities. His dental device, the "Bean Splint" allowed him to treat successfully over one hundred cases of gunshot wounds to the jaw and face while preventing the facial disfigurement and deformity that frequently resulted from such wounds. In Jan, 1865 the Confederate Medical Board in Richmond, unanimously recommended adoption of the Bean splint. Dr. Bean then supervised Richmond surgeons in the use of his device.

    After the war he went to Baltimore. He pioneered in the use of aluminum for dental plates. He took out a patent in 1867. His experiments weren't successful, but his casting was an important step in the development of the casting process in dentistry.

    Bean died in 1870 when he and 10 others were caught in blizzard on the summit of Mont Blanc. His notebooks were later recovered from the summit. Mark Twain included extracts from the notebook in his book, "A Tramp Abroad".
     
  4. Blessmag

    Blessmag Captain

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    Thanks for this. Never focused on dentists during this period. But I have a hard time thinking dentist without thinking of this clip:

     
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  5. The Iron Duke

    The Iron Duke First Sergeant

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    Oddly enough this is a topic that I'm a bit curious about. We are so accustomed looking at photographs where the subject has their mouth closed that I've often thought, "I wonder what their teeth looked like."

    [​IMG]
     
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  6. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    Lee's teeth, at the time of his death, were said to be 'good'. Don't know about anybody else's teeth except Forrest's. His were said to be very strong and unusually white. (They must have been strong since he could open a penknife with them...!)
     
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  7. carson_reb

    carson_reb Sergeant Major

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    Coincidentally, my wife asked me today if there were toothbrushes back during the ACW and what they would have been made out of. I considered her question, but had no answer. After reading this thread, I see that there were indeed toothbrushes. Anyone know what they were made out of? I'm thinking bone or wood. How about the bristles?
     
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  8. kansas

    kansas Corporal

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    Sturdy bristles were made from hog hair, softer ones from various animals. Im not saying soldiers did not have a toothbrush, but it would have been expensive ill bet. The next century brought synthetic brushes that were much more affordable. The confederate ordnance department shipped in many cases of bristles through the blockade, but not for toothbrushes i dont think.
     
  9. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    Something I'd never thought about, all right. Seems to me the soldiers - and others - used tooth picks more than tooth brushes?
     
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  10. RobertP

    RobertP Captain

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    Not Civil War, but early 20th century. My father grew up in small town Mississippi during the late teens and recalled the traveling Dentist who would come around once or twice a year. The Dentist had a black lad with him who peddled a bicycle-like contraption to power the drill. No Novocaine of course. We've come a long way baby.
     
  11. JeffersonDavis

    JeffersonDavis Banned

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  12. hcheetham

    hcheetham Private

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    interesting.hadn't given dentistry in the Civil War much of a thought.glad to see someone doing some research on it.lets us know more when you find it.
     
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  13. catspjamas

    catspjamas First Sergeant

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    During the war, toothpaste was a powder. Using charcoal was popular. Here are two recipes for tooth powder, neither use charcoal.

    1 oz myrrh (fine powder)
    2 tsps of honey
    a pinch of green sage
    Mix together and use every night on wet teeth.

    2 oz cuttlefish bone
    1 oz cream of tartar
    2 drachms drop lake (a pigment obtained from brazil wood)
    15 drops clover oil
    Powder, mix, sift
     
  14. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    catspjamas thanks for post on toothpaste.

    An interesting site on a toothbrush is:

    www.archaeology.org/0801/etc/artifact.html

    This is site by David Bush. He found civil war era toothbrush at Johnson's Island Civil War Prison Hospital. The brush was found during archaeological dig. The toothbrush is made of bone. The bristles are missing but were probably boar hair. He has picture of it on site.

    Another interesting quote regarding a soldier and his toothbrush is by an English Colonel (name unknown) who said, "The Confederate soldier has no ambition to imitate the regular soldier at all. He looks like the general rebel, but in spite of his bare feet, ragged clothes, an old rug, and toothbrush stuck like a rose in his buttonhole, he has a sort of devil-may-care, self confident look that is very charming".
     
  15. FburgRob

    FburgRob Cadet

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    Ivory with boar bristles secured in the holes with silk thread. All were made by hand and quite expensive. They were only owned by the wealthy.
     
  16. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    I wonder if this thread should be moved to Medicine of War forum. I had forgot I had posted this, as was back in 2011.
     
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  17. lelliott19

    lelliott19 Sergeant Major Forum Host Trivia Game Winner

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    Lt Col Arthur Fremantle, an English observer, describing the typical soldier of Longstreet's Corps on July 9, 1863 during the retreat from Gettysburg:
    I did not think much of the appearance of the Northern troops; they are certainly dressed in proper uniform, but their clothes are badly fitted, and they are often round-shouldered, dirty, and slovenly in appearance; in fact, bad imitations of soldiers. Now, the Confederate has no ambition to imitate the regular soldier at all; he looks the genuine rebel; but in spite of his bare feet, his ragged clothes, his old rug, and tooth-brush stuck like a rose in his button-hole, he has a sort of devil-may-care, reckless, self-confident look, which is decidedly taking.
    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:2001.05.0017:chapter=6
    When his memoirs were published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 94, 1863 in England, Fremantle noted: The tooth-brush in the button-hole is a very common custom, and has a most quaint effect.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2017
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  18. FarawayFriend

    FarawayFriend Captain Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    Believe it or not, but in the mid 1960s I was treated with such an instrument of torture still! But only once.

    As for toothbrushes, often people chewed on green twigs to clean their teeth. In some parts of the world they still do.
    And now here comes the surprise: a study that has compared chewing sticks to toothbrushes came to the following result:

    "Chewing stick has revealed parallel and at times greater mechanical and chemical cleansing of oral tissues as compared to a toothbrush"
    From: North American journal of medical sciences, vol. 6, 7 (2014), pp. 333-337
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4114011/
     

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  19. Podad

    Podad Sergeant

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    I think so, it would fit well in that forum. And dont fret forgetting something from 6 years ago. I forget stuff from ..................................................
     
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