History of Dentistry Explored in New Book

The profession of dentistry had a grim and storied beginning. “The Smile Stealers: The Fine and Foul Art of Dentistry” by Richard Barnett (Thames & Hudson), which was released in May, chronicles its growth from the Bronze Age to modern times.

Barnett is a medical historian who received his PhD at University College London and teaches at the Pembroke-Kings Programme in Cambridge and the Department of Science and Technology Studies at his alma mater. He mined archives in European, American and the Far East to put together the tome. The story begins with crude early attempts at dentistry—which were mostly meant to alleviate the pain and suffering of people with rotting teeth—to today’s heightened focus on good teeth as a sign of affluence and attractiveness. There are sections on the very first dentures, the smile revolution in eighteenth-century portraiture and the role of dentistry in forensic science.

“The Smile Stealers” includes over 300 illustrations of dental tools and procedures. It is the final book in a series that also includes “The Sick Rose, or Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration,” and “Crucial Interventions: An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles and Practices of Nineteenth-Century Surgery.”