In the acclaimed musical and novel Les Miserables, an unmarried woman named Fantine struggles to support her daughter in 19th century France. Fantine resorts to selling her possessions, her hair, her teeth, and eventually herself in order to send more and more money to the family caring for Cosette. Before she sings her famous and heartbreaking solo “I Dreamed a Dream,” we see Fantine’s teeth extracted bluntly with pliers, without the aid of any kind of pain killer. She is left with a bloody, unaesthetic smile, vulnerable to infection, in exchange for 20 francs a piece.
But why did she sell her teeth? And why would anyone want to buy them?
The Gruesome History of Dentures
In 19th century France, actual human teeth were the best available material for replacing lost teeth. The man who takes Fantine’s teeth in Les Miserables is a denture seller. He sings, “Come over here, it’s 20 francs for a tooth… the pain won’t last. You’ll still be able to bite.” Many desperate peasants in this time period would succumb to the same trap as Fantine, selling their teeth to make dentures for the wealthy French aristocrats who had rotted their own teeth with decadent sugary diets. Perhaps worse, denture teeth were sometimes taken from the dead.
Les Miserables’ own Monsieur Thénardier is seen robbing the gold fillings from the mouths of fallen fighters, and this was a very real practice. Not only were teeth robbed from the graves of rotting corpses, but after the battle of Waterloo in 1815, teeth were taken from the bodies of dead soldiers. The phrase Waterloo teeth referred to any teeth taken from any fallen soldiers, including those of the American Civil War.
To create the actual denture, the human teeth were then mounted on ivory bases with hinges made of coiled piano wire. The dentures with human teeth were considered desirable because of the natural look and feel. However, the teeth could be crafted from ivory, animal teeth, or wood for a cheaper alternative. Fortunately, our contemporary dentures and dental implants don’t rely on the acquisition of human teeth or ivory. Instead, porcelain or acrylic resin make up our denture teeth.
Downside to wearing dentures
Though our denture technology has much improved since the 19th century, we do know that there is a downside to wearing dentures at all. Aside from the physical difficulty of chewing hard foods, dentures can cause trouble speaking, premature aging, and embarrassment. This is why dental implants have become the gold standard of tooth replacement. The All-on-4 Dental Implant Concept is a full arch dental prosthesis, permanently supported by only four dental implants. With the same look and function of natural teeth, an All-on-4 restoration is the best replacement option for people who have lost all of their teeth on one or both of their jaws, greatly improving people’s quality of life.
If you’re tired of your dentures and want to discuss your tooth replacement options, schedule a consultation with Dr. Krakora’s office!
Featured Image Source: Daily Mail