We often associate sitting in the dentist’s chair with annoyance and pain, but dentists never get enough credit for making that experience much less painful than it actually could be.
In the 19th century, a dentist by the name of W.H. Atkinson wrote about a bizarre condition that caused people’s teeth to explode in their mouths. (And you thought getting cavities filled was painful!)
In 1817, Atkinson recorded the case of a reverend in Springfield, Pennsylvania, who suffered from a painful toothache.
One morning, he heard a loud crack in his mouth that sounded “like a pistol shot.” After his tooth shattered into tiny pieces, the pain went away.
In 1871, a young woman’s tooth blew up from a similar affliction.
Some say the sound that came from her mouth was so loud that she went deaf for a few days after the fact.
No one is quite sure if this condition actually existed, but one of its causes could have been that severe tooth decay often leads to gas buildup at the root.
When the tooth is filled with too much gas, it explodes like a balloon.
Another theory is that two different metals used for fillings back then reacted to each other by producing hydrogen.
That could explain the bizarre explosions.
But these are only theories, of course. Most modern dentists have little faith that this syndrome was ever actually a thing. Did Atkinson really treat a man with an exploding tooth problem, or was this just part of a sophisticated ploy to get his patients to floss more? We may never know.
To read more about the weird history of medicine, follow Thomas Morris on Twitter.