August 7, 1851



Aug 7th Thursday  Have been to Bridgewater to day

to have my teeth fixed  Dr Washburn kept me there

untill past twelve and then said he should have to heat

up the teeth which take an hour and half.

Left them with him and went to Mr Harris’ and 

returned at night for them.  Oliver was with me

we called at Mr J Mitchells.  Mrs Mitchell & sister

Harriet had gone to Marshfield

It says a great deal about 19th century dentistry that the illustration above, made for a spelling book, used an image of dentures to depict the word “teeth.”  In 1851, false teeth were the norm for most adults. Dental hygiene was primitive and regular care by professionals unavailable. Although brushes for teeth were around, toothpaste didn’t come in until the 20th century.  Those who could afford to pay a dentist usually ended up with false teeth. So it was for Evelina, who had dentures, or at least several false teeth that she had to leave at the dentist’s today to be fixed. Her son, Oliver (3) accompanied her.

Nahum Washburn was the Ames family’s dentist.  A graduate of Dartmouth College, he was trained in homeopathy but preferred dentistry.  He had an office in Bridgewater from 1840 to 1883.

Washburn cared about the pain that his patients had to go through and developed a machine to reduce their discomfort when he worked on their mouths.  In 1859, he obtained a patent for a


a contraption that was “a combination of dental forceps…with [an] electro-magnetic mechanism…so that the electrical current or currents [could] be made to flow through the nerve or nerves of the tooth, or the jaw or flesh immediately contiguous…in order to benumb the same and render such more or less insensible to pain during the performance of the dental operations. ” *

Doesn’t sound all that painless.


*Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 69, Philadelphia, p.165




One thought on “August 7, 1851

  1. It is interesting that Evelina, WITHOUT her teeth still sees Mr Harris. Many folks would go into hiding without their teeth. Ether was also coming into use, as Thoreau’s journal, possibly later in the 1850’s though, describes his “visions” while having his teeth extracted or otherwise worked on, while having been etherized.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s