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When Dentures Used Real Human Teeth

With our advanced dental technology and space-age materials, it's easy for us to think that using real teeth for dentures is gross. But for our dentally-challenged ancestors, it was a choice between that or dentures made of something else that look or work right, or just doing without teeth. They could have told themselves that these human teeth came from dental extractions instead of dead bodies, but we know the truth.

Such ghoulish dentures are usually referred to as “Waterloo teeth,” thanks to the practice of yanking perfectly good teeth from battlefield casualties. No one is quite sure where that name originally came from, and it’s even a bit misleading. But none of that makes the history of humans filling their mouths with the teeth of other humans any less fascinating.

“It’s kind of a misnomer, because the Waterloo battle was in 1815, and human teeth were in use in dentures already,” says Andrew Spielman, associate dean for academic affairs at the NYU School of Dentistry. According to Spielman, human teeth had been used in dentures for at least a century before the Battle of Waterloo, and were routinely culled from battlefields since at least the French Revolution in the late 1700s.

Read about the practice of using human teeth for dentures, where they came from and how they worked, at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Wellcome Collection)


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