The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris

Brewer_10_14John Brewer at Literary Review:

The 18th-century cult of sensibility, spread through performances on the Parisian stage and nurtured by novels of deep emotional intensity by the likes of Samuel Richardson and Rousseau, loosened the grip of the costive, courtly smile. Charming and tender smiles – transparent expressions of feeling intended to be shared by all men and women, though, in practice, chiefly enjoyed by the Parisian cultural and social elite – became fashionable. Teeth and smiles were chic – and so were dentists. Practitioners like Pierre Fauchard made dental care a profession: they abandoned the street (where teeth had been brutally pulled by colourful showmen like 'Le Grand Thomas', who operated on the Pont Neuf and was known as the 'Pearl of the Charlatans' and 'Terror of the Human Jaw') and set up offices (upstairs so the patients' screams could not be heard in the street below) in fashionable spots like the Rue Saint-Honoré. They encouraged tooth conservation, not brutal extraction, wrote treatises that established dentistry as a science, and emphasised the importance of patient self-care, which helped them peddle a succession of cleaners, whiteners, gargles, toothpicks and breath sweeteners. Fauchard invented spring-loaded denture sets, which, as Jones reminds us, 'had the unfortunate habit of leaping dramatically out of the owner's mouth at unguarded moments'. Nicolas Dubois de Chémant went one better and manufactured very expensive porcelain dentures, a set of which (illustrated in the text) belonged to the exiled archbishop of Narbonne, and were exhumed during the building of the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras.

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