A pair of early 19th century dentures made from human teeth and ivory
Before the advent of porcelain teeth the edentulous relied on false teeth carved from natural material such as ivory (hippo, elephant and walrus). They were less aesthetically pleasing than human teeth and had the disadvantage of rotting quickly without a protective layer of enamel. The term Waterloo teeth came from stories of solders dead on the battlefield having their teeth harvested for the purpose of giving up this desirable raw material for dentists. They were usually set in a base of hippopotamus ivory and secured with metal pins (as can be seen from the top view of this example). Teeth from the battlefield were considered very desirable by consumers being fresh from the jaws of healthy young men, less so that other more questionable sources which came from resurrectionists. Human teeth were four time as expensive as their ivory counterparts and in 1815 a row of them could set a wealthy London gent back by £30 (equivalent to £20,000 in 2010) a hefty price, but one which is roughly equivalent to the current cost of dental implants.
- From the Phisick collection