If Only They Had Kept Their Teeth…

by Dr. George Freedman, BSc, DDS

Today’s health standards mandate the retention of functional teeth (or their substitutes) throughout adult life. This is a colossal change of expectations in just less than half a century. In the mid-20th century, partial and complete edentulousness were common in people approaching their forties and beyond, even in the industrialized world. Science, research, materials and technological development have made all the difference. The general population now expects, and can achieve with the aid of the dental profession, teeth that are healthy (and restored-to-health) in function and esthetics. The articles in this issue of Oral Health chronicle very exciting progress and trends that are now available in the dental armamentarium.

What impact could better dental and oral health have had historically? One needs to look no further than the infamous Salem Witch Trials. This travesty of temporary community hysteria was directed at “witches”, both female and male (but primarily the former). More than 200 were tried, and 20 were executed. The victims were typically old, poor, and had certain indisputable, and readily identifiable characteristics, according to the wisdom of the time. What were the features that could identify a “witch”?

A typical witch was a “toothless old crone or warlock” with a “dark mouth that looked like a cavern”. Considering that the average age of the “witches” executed in Salem was 58, their toothlessness is not surprising. The lack of dental care in the pioneering community (extractions at best), caused progressive and early edentulousness as people aged. A “wrinkled face” or “gobber tooth” (often due to a collapsed occlusion) served to confirm the allegation of wizardry. “Hollow cheeks” (due to loss of the molars and premolars) often settled the question of the “witch’s” guilt. Add to this the appearance of “a long face with the chin almost touching the nose” (bimaxillary tooth and alveolar bone loss), “thin, cruel lips” (loss of anterior tooth support), and the “cooking and consuming of stews rather than raw food” (inability to masticate), and the proof for conviction was complete. Thus, after the identification of these irrefutable witchly characteristics, it was only the matter of convening the trial and finding the accused guilty.

Examining these notorious events with the benefits of hindsight and dental progress, it is evident that proper and timely dental care could have saved the unfortunate victims. If their dentitions had been restored to function and reasonable esthetics, they would never have been identified as witches, tried, convicted, and executed. It is entirely possible the Salem Witch Trials would never have occurred. Dental appearance, at least in this specific case, had lethally devastating effects.

The innovations and developments in the following pages will make for interesting reading; new materials and techniques for improving patient health. Here’s to a bewitching and beautiful summer…. OH

About the Editor
Dr. George Freedman, BSc, DDS is Adjunct Professor at Western University (California) and Professor and Program Director, BPP University, London, UK, MClinDent programme in Restorative and Cosmetic Dentistry. A founder and past president of AACD and co-founder of the Canadian Academy for Esthetic Dentistry, he is author of 14 textbooks, most recently “Contemporary Esthetic Dentistry” (Elsevier), and numerous articles and webinars. Dr Freedman received the Irwin Smigel Prize in Aesthetic Dentistry (NYU College of Dentistry). A McGill graduate, he lectures internationally on direct and indirect restorative materials and new technology. Dr. Freedman is a Regent and Fellow of the International Academy for Dental Facial Esthetics, and maintains a private practice limited to Esthetic Dentistry in Toronto, Canada.

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