Friday, February 3, 2012

De Chemant and His Porcelain Teeth

by Wanda Luce

brought to you from the BDA (British Dental Association) and posted by Wanda Luce, Regency author
Toward the end of the 18th century, people were becoming dissatisfied with ivory dentures, and experiments began with porcelain and the production of "incorruptible" dentures. The whole of the denture, teeth and gums, were made of china. In their favour they were more hygienic, however they were brittle, the colours weren’t very realistic and generally they did not fit well. They were the subject of a good deal of hilarity at the time. People made much fun of them as depicted in this picture by Thomas Rowlandson. It shows the French dentist, Nicholas Dubois de Chemant, demonstrating his porcelain dentures on a buxom lady to a potential client who inspects them through his double lorgnette.
Nicholas Dubois de Chemant (1753-1824) was an important dentist in Paris before the revolution of 1789. He perfected the manufacture of his mineral paste, or porcelain dentures, which he claimed were an improvement on the more usual ivory teeth as they did not decay in the mouth. Alexis Duchateau (1714-1792) invented the process in 1744, but De Chemant was able to overcome the problem of shrinkage during firing. King Louis XVI granted him an inventor’s patent. However, in 1792 he fled to England to escape the French Revolution.
On arrival in England he, was granted a 14-year patent for the exclusive manufacture of his invention and established himself in 2 Firth Street, near Soho Square, London. The Wedgwood Company supplied him with the porcelain paste the process needed and by 1804, he claimed to have made 12,000 false teeth. It was at the height of his fame that Rowlandson completed this etching in 1811.

 In earlier years, dentures were either authentic teeth from another person or replicas made of ivory.  These decayed easily.  Below are some pictures of false teeth from before the 20th century. This set here belonged to Arthur Richard Dillon (1721-1806), Archbishop of Narbonne in France.

Some bought into the idea of tooth tranplantation.  Often the poor allowed their healthy teeth to be extracted for a few coins, so they could be transplanted into the mouths of the toothless rich.  Often children were subjected to this kind of abuse as is depicted in this caricature.

How dreadful it must have been to lose one's teeth.   Below are a few pictures of old dentures that will make you cringe. I am so grateful to live in the 21st century!!!  (So far I have all of my own teeth, but...someday I might not be so fortunate.)

Check out the partials to the left.

Below is an awkward looking pair.

Thank you for reading.

Wanda Luce, Regency romance author


  1. What a very interesting article, Wanda! I don't know why, but I would have never thought of this! lol

  2. Wow! I'm feeling a bit grateful for living in my modern time too as I only have half my own teeth.

    Interesting article! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank Wanda for this harrowing information. What ghastly looking contrivances! One wonders how they were glued in place.
    George Washington, as is well known, was quite chagrinned about his wooden teeth. Gilbert Stuart, who had taken a dislike to Washington, puffed out his portrait's mouth to varying degrees in the many copies he made, while telling poor Martha Washington that the commissioned painting wasn't finished yet. Which is why the portrait most familiar to us isn't finished, looks bleak-eyed and puffy-mouthed. And that just goes to show, you should't let on to your portrait painter that you're worried how your teeth look -- and above all, you mustn't vex him.

  4. Amazing article, thankyou Wanda. I would love to know more about the history of dentistry, especially in my period of interest which is medieval (11thc to be precise).

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