Be Glad for Modern Dentistry: Today’s Mystery Artifact Revealed

If you poll a roomful of people, odds are most, if not all, would list “going to the dentist” low on their list of fun things to do. And yet, the modern dentist appointment–especially if it involves something beyond the standard cleaning–is like a 4-star spa treatment compared to its equivalent two centuries ago. (If there can be said to be an “equivalent” in dental terms that far back.)

Witness, for example, today’s What-in-the-WORLD?-Wednesday mystery artifact.

Now that we’ve given you a major hint that dentistry is involved, the jig is, in large part, up. We had some fun guesses on our Facebook page earlier today: nutcracker, cartography implement, mason’s tool, gear crank. But nobody even got close to the dentist’s office and no wonder. Who would want this thing anywhere near their mouth?

It was, however, in plenty of mouths. This item, dated to around 1800, is a “dental pelican tool,” used to extract teeth. It got its name because the ends resemble a pelican’s wide beak. To learn more about how the tooth is actually removed and see another example of this tool, click on over to this blog post about creepy antique dental instruments — if you dare!

Our item was part of the collection of Dr. William Marrett of Westbrook, who began practicing in 1832. The tool is made from a pattern dated to 1650, though this may well be a reproduction. Apparently he used the pelican tool sparingly, preferring the new-fangled tooth key more often.

So the next time a dental procedure pops up on your calendar — rejoice! Prospects could be much, much, MUCH worse.

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