Fox’s Toothkey (From the Collection #33)

The Story

Before antibiotics and modern dental care, dentists had little choice but to remove a patient’s diseased tooth.  The toothkey was developed in the early 18th century for tooth extraction.  It consisted of a straight metal shaft with a handle of wood, bone, or ivory set at right angles to the instrument. The working end of the toothkey had a bolster with a hinged claw. The bolster was placed against the root of the tooth and the claw over the crown. The key was then turned as in a lock, thereby dislocating the tooth. By 1780 toothkeys were being made with a distinct bend to the shaft to prevent undue force against adjacent teeth.

Over the course of the next century, toothkey design was refined to improve its efficiency.  The final development of the toothkey was the forceps principle – part toothkey and part forceps. Although tooth extraction forceps eventually replaced the toothkey, some dentists continued to use toothkeys until the early 20th century and in rural areas until the 1930s.

(This toothkey in particular was used by a Dr. Charles Robinson.)

The Specs

ACCESSION NUMBER / Link:1934.8.8 a-c
Object Name:Fox’s Toothkey
Manufacturer (Country):W & H Hutchinson (England)
Date Made:1830-1870

About “From the Collection”

“From the Collection” was a project originally published in 2010 to the Museum of Health Care’s website by former Curator Paul Robertson, with the goal being to highlight some the Museum’s most unique items that might be missed in our collection. Each artifact is presented as a bite-sized story, related information, and a link to it’s fully detailed entry on our free online digital catalogue!

Posts in the “From the Collection” series were originally created with support from Funded by the Ontario Museums and Technology Fund. The support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is acknowledged.

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