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The History of Dentistry


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About the Author

James Wynbrandt lives in New York City.


Not a dentist by profession but a humorist, Wynbrandt brings an irreverent approach to the seemingly colorless topic of dentistry. All the names and dates of important discoveries and advances in dental practice are here, but they are delivered along with an endless supply of tales ranging from the comical to the macabre. From the almost universal belief in "tooth worms" as the cause of cavities to "spirits and demons as agents of infirmity," superstitions and folk remedies throughout the world are thoroughly covered. Admitting that dentistry has historically been the domain of "incompetents, ignoramuses, quacks, and charlatans," Wynbrandt creates vivid images of medieval marketplace hucksters and "barber-surgeons" who advertised by displaying buckets of blood in their windows. Even as dentistry slowly moved into the realm of legitimate medicine, its trial-and-error practice included the use of leeches, bloodletting, urine mouthwashes, poisonous and highly addictive painkillers (including morphine and cocaine) and deadly radiation. Wynbrandt makes his point well that "we are fortunate to live in the golden era of `painless' dentistry," and indeed "a dentally pampered culture" in which cosmetic concerns have all but overtaken the practice. This is an exhaustive, entertaining history that is likely to appeal mostly to... dentists. Eight pages of b&w illustrations, not seen by PW. (June)

The history of dentistry is a subject not well known to patients who dread their semiannual visit. They may not realize that the temporary discomfort they face is negligible compared with the pain and distress endured by patients of previous eras. The author reports that at times dental treatments were more bloody and barbarous than beneficial. He discusses the development of dentistry as a profession, the use of different anesthetics, and the evolution of dentures and dental prosthetics, among other topics. Much of the book is devoted to anecdotes illustrating discontinued dental practices. Wynbrandt thoroughly researched this topic, but it is not likely to be of interest to the average reader. His book is more suited to collections in the history of science and medicine in academic libraries.‘Bruce Slutsky, New Jersey Inst. of Technology Lib., Newark

Soother of the Week: Just the thing you need to get through your next oral probing. -- Entertainment Weekly Captivating...smartly delivered education. -- Paper Magazine A breezy romp through the history of dentistry...both [dentists and patients] are in for a good laugh. -- Kirkus Reviews An exhaustive, entertaining history. -- Publishers Weekly THE EXCRUCIATING HISTORY OF DENTISTRY doesn't disappoint...you'll gain a great deal of dental knowledge, acquired quite painlessly...Wynbrandt has clearly done his homework. -- The New York Times Book Review

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