The Dentist Magazine.

The Smile Stealers – The Fine and Foul Art of Dentistry

Published: 06/04/2017

The third and final volume of the award-winning series that began with The Sick Rose and Crucial Interventions, The Smile Stealersprobes the evolution of dentistry from the excruciating endeavours of crude early practitioners to the swift, painless procedures and cosmetic surgery of today.

Eloquent and engaging themed articles by medical historian Richard Barnett trace the development of the trade and discipline of the dentist from fairground entertainer and charlatan to highly skilled professional and covers topics as diverse as the very first dentures (produced by the Etruscans in the seventh century BCE), the smile revolution in 18th-century portraiture and the role of dentistry in forensic science. The text is accompanied by gruesome yet captivating medical drawings of techniques and tools alongside pertinent caricatures, paintings and the rarest of books and artefacts from the Wellcome Collection’s unique archive.

Dentistry has never been only about teeth. It has always been cosmetic, concerned with aesthetics as much as function. As Barnett writes, “possession of a functional, pain-free mouth is practical necessity … but it is also central to our sense of self. Pain in the head can seem unbearably close to the core of who we are, and stinking breath or black teeth carry a stigma that is both peculiarly personal and entirely public.” Barnett examines the changing social attitudes towards the purpose and practice of dentistry, chronicling the shift away from heroic extraction towards contemporary preventative and cosmetic dentistry.

Barnett’s text and the accompanying images tell striking stories of health and disease, but also cast an unsettling new light on the history of beauty and ugliness, food and fashion, cultural ideals and individual unease.

Richard Barnettis a writer, teacher and broadcaster on the cultural history of science and medicine. He studied medicine in London before becoming a historian, and teaches on the Pembroke-Kings Programme in Cambridge. In 2011, he received one of the first Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellowships and has made many appearances on British and American television and radio. His first book, Medical London: City of Diseases, City of Cures (2008) was Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4.

Find him online at