Yesterday I blogged about the use of nitrous oxide as a dental anaesthetic. As is often the way with such things I was speed reading a local history this morning looking for relevant background information for the documentation project I’m working on, and came across a story of how in the 1890’s the local pharmacist in Coleraine (near Hamilton in the Western District – not the one in Ireland) doubled up as the local dentist.
He didn’t have any qualifications in dentistry as such, but took a correspondence course in dentistry – he must have been good at it as he eventually sold his pharmacy business to concentrate on the dentistry business.
At first this is an absolutely horrendous story, up there with the use of by dentists in poor countries of craft work diy power drills, but actually it makes sense when you think about it.
Firstly, dentistry was unregulated in Victoria until 1901 – anyone could set up as a dentist. They might not have been able to claim to be a dental surgeon, but they could provide basic dental services.
And in the 1890’s, these basic dental services probably consisted of extractions and fillings, both of which fitted well with pharmacy – some knowledge was required to correctly administer anaesthetic if required, and some skill in mixing up amalgam mix from first principles would be required. Other than that a bit of dexterity with the drill and brute force with the pliers was all that was required.
Anaesthesia and amalgam fitted well with pharmacy – pharmacists were used to dealing with noxious substances, and would be skilled – probably more so than many of today’s pharmacists – at mixing and compounding material.
More complex work, such as making up false teeth, probably required a greater degree of skill and professional knowledge, which is why you get dentists specifically advertising replacement teeth …