Monday, January 18, 2010

"Her teeth are tolerable, I suppose."

I hate the dentist.

I know, I know, everyone does; but after one and a half hours of sitting in that chair today, and receiving an absolutely whopping filling, I'm feeling especially sorry for myself.

One of the greatest trials for me was sitting for so long without being able to read, or tweet, or amuse myself in any way. At times like this my mind almost inevitably wanders to the subject of Jane Austen, and I found myself wondering what, if any, her experiences of dentistry were.

I'm still plowing through Jane Austen's Letters by Deirdre Le Faye, and I was surprised and pleased to come across this letter from Jane to Cassandra, dated Thursday 16th September, 1813, of which I reproduce this extract:

" - The poor Girls & their Teeth! - I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence's, & Lizzy's were filed & lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the Eye teeth, to make room for those in front. - When her doom was fixed, Fanny Lizzy & I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp hasty Screams. - Fanny's teeth were cleaned too - & pretty as they are, Spence found something to do to them, putting in gold and talking gravely - & making a considerable point of seeing her again before winter; - he had before urged the expediency of L. & M.s being brought to Town in the course of a couple of Months to be farther examined, & continued to the last to press for their all coming to him. - My Br would not absolutely promise. - The little girls teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischeif (sic) to parade about Fannys. - I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth & double it. - It was a disagreeable hour."

So it would seem, whatever my opinion of dentists, Miss Jane Austen's opinion was decidedly worse!

Since she would not submit to an examination herself, we can only conclude that her teeth were in pretty good shape - since a persistent toothache is so unbearable as to make a trip to even that dentist seem like a welcome relief.

Indeed, of all the illnesses of the time, toothache is said to be the one which was most dreaded; certainly there was precious little that bleeding could do to cure a rotten molar! If Miss Jane Austen did suffer from toothache, she may have resorted to this little remedy, once again taken from Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces, 1811 :

Remedy for the Tooth-ach

In two drachms of rectified spirits of wine dissolve one drachm of camphire, five grains of prepared opium, and ten drops of oil of box; mix them well, and keep it well corked for use. If the pain arise from a hollow tooth, four or five drops on cotton to be put into the tooth; or six or seven drops to be put on cotton into the ear on the side where the pain is felt. Should the patient not feel easier in a quarter of an hour, the same may be repeated. It has never failed on the second application.

I don't doubt that it never failed on the second application, but I find myself wondering why they bothered with any of the ingredients besides the opium!

After due reflection, I find that my dentist is tolerable. I suppose.


  1. Thanks for the giggle, Jane - both of you! I have to say, I have been very lucky and have never had toothache or tooth decay. So I know not the agony of the dentist's drill.

    I have, however, had all my wisdom teeth removed (obviously, that's directly responsible for my lack of wit!). The lower ones were done under GA (on my 14th b'day!), but the upper ones were done under LA in London. It took longer than the dentist expected it to for the anesthetic to work. He didn't believe me when I said I still had feeling - until he tried to extract the first tooth and I hit him! Hard. In the face. Perfectly natural reaction, I think. Reflexive, really.


  2. Thanks for the comment, and the accompanying laugh! I have a similar problem with anaesthetic - it takes an age to work for me. Today's filling required 3 jabs in my jaw, followed later by 3 more in my gum... But I'd rather that than do without anaesthesia any day.