Strange epidemic of “exploding teeth” in the United States of the 19th century

(ORDO NEWS) — In the United States in the 1800s, several patients went to their dentists with an unusual complaint: their teeth had exploded in their mouths.

In 1817, a reverend from Mercer County, Pennsylvania began to experience the worst toothache of his life, which “drove him mad.”

“During his agony, he ran hither and thither in a vain attempt to get at least some respite.

Now he beat his head on the ground, like an angry animal, then he thrust it under the corner of the fence, then he again went to the source and immersed his head in cold water.

This alarmed his family so much that they brought him to a cabin and did everything in their power to calm him,” wrote the dentist W. H. Atkinson in a report in Dental Cosmos in 1860.

“But everything turned out to be useless until at nine o’clock the next morning, when he was walking around the room in a wild delirium, a sudden sharp crack, like a pistol shot, which tore his tooth to pieces, brought him instant relief.

At that moment, he turned to his wife and said, “My pain is gone.” He went to bed and slept soundly all that day and most of the following night, after which he was in his right mind and well.

The dentist described two other cases, one in 1830 and the other in 1855. Like the reverend, they had increasing pain, followed by a sudden sharp pain, an exploding tooth, and instant relief. It is noted that in one case the tooth “crumbled into pieces.”

These were not isolated reports from one dentist accidentally holding his filling material too close to a jar of napalm. Several other reports from other dentists suggest that the phenomenon, while strange, was real.

“Just before the explosion took place, the tooth ached terribly, disturbing the harmonic equanimity of every part of her body to such an extent that she sometimes had slight deviations in consciousness,” the dentist J. Phelps Hibler wrote of the patient in 1874.

“Suddenly, with no symptoms other than the previous intense pain, a tooth, the lower right first molar, burst with a concussion and a message that nearly knocked her off her feet.

Splitting of the tooth directly from the lingual to the buccal surface and otherwise very severe destruction of the organ.

At the same time, the moment she had a terrible sensation running through her Eustachian tubes, which caused her to become deaf for a significant amount of time.

All this did not take a minute, and the tooth immediately stopped hurting.

So what’s going on? Were people’s teeth just more unstable at the time? Since cases of the disease stopped around the 1920s. However, dentists have been hypothesizing over the years.

One of the early theories was that the gas had built up inside the decaying tooth before it caused it to explode.

Although the accumulation of gas in the teeth can occur, for example, through an incomplete root canal, it will not cause enough pressure for people’s teeth to explode in the mouth as described.

A more likely explanation than the accumulation of natural gas due to tooth decay has been proposed by Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London.

According to Sella, the “exploding teeth” phenomenon could be caused by outdated chemicals used to make fillings.

Various metals were used to fill cavities in the 1800s, from the unwanted tin to the even more unwanted lead. If two different metals were used in the same mouth, it could essentially turn their mouth into a battery.

“Spontaneous electrolysis can occur due to the mixture of metals you have in your mouth,” Sella told the BBC in 2016.

“My favorite explanation is that if the filling was poorly made, so that part of the cavity was left, that would mean the possibility of hydrogen accumulating inside the tooth.”

The tooth can then either explode due to the pressure or ignite, say, when smoking a cigarette. Unfortunately, we still do not know the exact explanation as there is no evidence that these patients had fillings.

This seems to be due to old dental practices and we don’t have to worry about our teeth becoming time bombs.


Contact us: [email protected]

Our Standards, Terms of Use: Standard Terms And Conditions.