Ain't that the tooth

Heather Buchanan visits a Wellcome Collection exhibition.

As someone who works in applying psychology to the dental context, I was particularly interested in attending the exhibition ‘Teeth’. However, you don’t need to have a special interest in dentistry to find much to smile about in this exhibition.

There are over 150 objects, including an antique dental chair, Napolean’s toothbrush, sketches, an eye-watering collection of dental instruments and some eye-popping dental bling. These are supplemented with short films including one on treating dentally anxious patients (including psychological management techniques).

Within the exhibition you can explore how important teeth are to us, both functionally and aesthetically. Also, find out how integral they are for identifying us in death, through forensic dentistry. ‘Teeth’ takes us through the journey from barber-surgeons to professional dentistry and new technology and treatments. The move towards preventive dentistry and oral health promotion is well-documented with 
a range of public health posters (‘A tooth in the head is worth ten on the plate’) and toothpaste adverts showcasing some amazing talent in modern art (yes, really).

A particular favourite for me was the collection of letters to and from the tooth fairy. They range from short scrawls from youngsters (‘I swallowed my tooth. Can I still have my money?’) to creative explanations for why the tooth fairy was late in arriving: ‘Several children slept with their heads under the pillow and some of the newer fairies thought that meant that we had to remove all their teeth but then of course we had to put them all back as that’s not how tooth fairies work ‘.

‘Teeth’ is collated and presented in such a way to make it appealing to both adults and children and really is well worth a visit.

- Reviewed by Heather Buchanan, a Chartered Psychologist at the University of Nottingham.

- The exhibition runs until 16 September. For more information see

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