Medieval ‘dentists’ were often better than you might think
In Medieval Europe, traveling fairs were very common. Entertainers would go from town to town or village to village putting on shows to make a living. Such traveling fairs would also feature sporting competitions, markets and, in most cases, a man or woman who specialised in pulling teeth. The St James Fair, which toured the south-west of England, is a good example of this. Their ‘dentist’ was famed across the region and built a solid reputation for his services.
Like the man working for the St James Fair, traveling dental practitioners were reliant on their reputation for their livelihoods. For this reason, they needed to be skilled at their jobs. A man – or woman – who could extract a tooth quickly, with minimal pain and without the risk of excess and uncontrollable bleeding, would quickly gain an enviable reputation. Indeed, the history books show that, in many small towns and villages, people would endure the pains of toothache for many weeks or even months and wait for a well-respected dental practitioner to come.
To showcase their skills, some traveling dentists would go around wearing necklaces of teeth. Far from putting people off, this was instead seen as a testament to the number of patients they had successfully treated. Some of the more successful traveling dentists would also be able to afford silver forceps or other ornate tools, which they were only too willing to show off. Again, these were signs that a man was good at his ‘trade’ and could be trusted to get a tooth out without too much trouble.