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Culture:English (probably)
Title:tooth key
Date Made:1750-1770
Materials:base metal: steel, pewter; wood
Place Made:United Kingdom; Great Britain (probably)
Measurements:overall: 6 1/4 in x 3 3/8 in; 15.875 cm x 8.5725 cm
Accession Number:  HD 59.269.1
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Tooth key used in dentistry to extract diseased teeth. Before the era of antibiotics, dental extraction was often the method of choice to treat dental infections, and extraction instruments date back several centuries. The tooth key, which was also known as "Clef de Garengeot," "Fothergill-Key," "English-Key," and "Dimppel Extractor," was first mentioned in 1742, but was probably in use from about 1730. Modeled after a door key, the dental key was used by first inserting the instrument horizontally into the mouth; the small curved metal arms at the base were set around the affected tooth, and the doctor or dentist grasped the wooden handle at the top, twisting and pulling until the tooth loosened and came out. The design of the dental key evolved over the years. The original design of the key, such as this example, featured a straight shaft which exerted pressure on the tooth next to the one being extracted, often resulting in the tooth breaking, and/or causing jaw fractures and soft tissue damage. By around 1765, a straight curve was given to the previous straight shaft, which was developed into a distinct bend by Ferdinand Julius Leber (1727-1808) about 1780. Many modifications were made over the years, such as a design by the French master cutler and instrument designer Joseph-Frédéric-Benoît Charrière (1803-1876) with interchangeable claws. By the end of the 19th century, the introduction of forceps rendered the tooth key mostly obsolete. However, a modern version of the dental key, the Dimppel Extractor, briefly revitalized its use later in the 20th century. This key has a wooden handle; straight shaft of steel partially covered with a pewter sleeve; and four removable claws or extraction hooks attached to the end with wire.

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