Dental history is, shall we say, complicated. Fortunately we have all sorts of ways to minimize pain today, but none may be as exciting as those used by Edgar “Painless” Parker, a dentist who would distract his patients by putting on a vaudeville show as he worked. Plus: V2P technology could help us keep cars and pedestrians from crashing into each other.
I’m on my way to the dentist today, and that got me wondering where this whole world of toothbrushes, pastes and dentists all got started.
It’s a, shall we say, complicated history.
If you’re one of those people who avoids the dentist because you’re scared it might hurt, be glad you’re living now, when there are all sorts of ways to minimize pain.
Back in the 1700s, barber-surgeons, as they were called, would remove teeth in several unpleasant ways.
One was called the dental key, shaped like an actual key and used to sort of pry the tooth out of the patient’s mouth.
If that didn’t work they might actually smash the tooth into pieces – while in your mouth – to remove it!
If you couldn’t go to a barber-surgeon, there was also the tooth drawer, who was a sort of traveling discount dental clinic.
But for every legit tooth drawer there were plenty of phonies who would misdiagnose and remove perfectly healthy teeth just to make a bit of money.
Many of today’s dentists focus on comfort as well as dental health, although at least one practitioner from the past did try to keep patients feeling good as he worked.
He was Edgar Parker, also known as Painless Parker.
He was an actual dentist, and would give his patients whisky or even a drug-laced drink to head off the pain, but he was also a showman.
The key to his practice was distracting patients.
While he worked, he’d have them watch a vaudeville show, everything from jugglers and magicians to dancing nurses and, for a while, an elephant.
That kept the patient’s mind off the dentistry, and it cut down on all that small talk at the dentist’s office.
You’ve heard of distracted driving, but there are also distracted pedestrians.
People get hit by cars because they’re walking down the street looking at their phones and walk into traffic.
Just as there’s technology aimed at helping cars spot each other on the road and avoid collisions, there’s now a technology called V2P – vehicle to pedestrian – which wants to use smartphones to calculate cars’ and pedestrians’ locations in relation to each other and send them alerts when they’re in danger of colliding.
Although Ars Technica notes that there’s another technology we can use in those kinds of situations: it’s called looking around.