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Wooden snuff box showing a tooth extraction, Europe, 1701-1900

A painful tooth extraction is shown on the lid of the snuff box. A piece of string has been secured around the patient’s tooth and is being pulled by the dentist. The patient probably only had, at best, alcohol or herbal concoctions to relive the pain. Tooth pulling was carried out by a range of people including barber-surgeons and travelling practitioners, who often had limited medical skills at best. The illustration would suggest that the process was viewed as somewhat humorous. Snuff was well-liked for its aroma, taste and stimulating nicotine boost. It was also believed to ward off colds, be good for ear, nose and throat problems and stop snoring. (Pictured here with two other snuff boxes showing tooth extractions, A642702 and A642713).

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Glossary: snuff box

a small usually ornamental container for holding snuff Boxes, usually having a hinged lid and small enough to be carried in the pocket, used for holding snuff

Glossary: tooth pulling

The removal of a tooth from the mouth. Extractions are performed for a wide variety of reasons, including tooth decay that has destroyed enough tooth structure to prevent restoration. Extractions of impacted or problematic wisdom teeth are also routinely performed.

Glossary: dentistry

The study, treatment and management of diseases affecting the mouth, jaws, gums, teeth and their supporting tissues.

Glossary: nicotine

A chemical compound that forms 0.6-3.0 per cent of the dry weight of tobacco. Nicotine acts as a stimulant in mammals, and is one of the primary reasons for smoking addiction.

Glossary: snuff

Tobacco that has been finely powdered. Snuff is usually sniffed through the nose, or applied to the gums with a finger.