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Hal the Healer and Others of His Ilk

Dentistry has come a long way since the days of Hal the Healer and the band that accompanied his dental extractions.

A large crowd surrounded Hal the Healer's platform in the middle 1800s. Before beginning, Hal signaled his band to strike up a lively tune. Why? Because Hal was preparing to pull a tooth and the music was needed to drown out the screams of the unfortunate patient!

In the early 19th century, the pulling of teeth was a common public attraction. Everyday life was pretty dreary and watching someone else suffer provided a distraction. Dentists became public entertainers of the sort, vying with each other for business. The more flamboyant the performance, the bigger the crowd, and the greater the chance for more vict…er..patients. Hal the Healer used music to drown out the muffled screams of the patient. Why muffled? Because Hal's advanced technique was based on pulling the tooth with his right hand while choking off the windpipe with his left.

Diamond Kit, who performed adorned with jewelry, used a different procedure. He claimed to have an effective pain reliever that he would administer before the extraction. And administer he did. The "pain reliever" was swabbed over the mouth, the tooth was yanked, and not a peep was heard. But that had nothing to do with Kit's pain reliever. It had everything to do with the large a wad of cotton he stuffed into the patient's mouth after performing the extraction.

Dr. Jean St. Pierre who performed his dental artistry with a travelling Medicine Show had a different twist. Not only did he pull in customers with his tooth-pulling performance, he even offered to treat members of the troop for free. At least until the owner of the show noticed that his performers were giving sub-par performances and seemed to be continuously dazed. When he had to have his own molar extracted, he discovered the reason. Dr. St. Pierre gave him some pills to take. The pills contained a hefty dose of opium! It seems St. Pierre was making a little income on the side supplying the performers with the opium to which they had been introduced by the "painless dentistry." Aren’t you glad that today we have novocaine and painless dentistry for real?


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