“Toothache, Saints and Churches” was the intriguing title of the talk by Dr John F Beal, MBE, PhD, Honorary Senior Lecturer at Leeds University. He is also an NHS Consultant and a former Chairman of the Lindsey Society for the History of Dentistry. He began by asking whether toothache had been a problem in mediaeval England. Letters and diaries of royals and other wealthy people indicated that this was indeed the case: oral hygiene was rudimentary, and both halitosis and toothlessness were common. Archaeological evidence included skulls where there were signs of decayed teeth and of tooth loss. What might be called ecclesiastical evidence is to be found in sculptures and grotesques in many churches and cathedrals, depicting people grimacing with toothache. For example, two such grotesques are to be found on the south wall of Cromer Parish Church. Dr Beal described some of the ‘remedies’ used in an attempt to cure toothache, quite often grotesque in themselves, such as the application of boiled liquid from mandrakes; or one could go for instance to the blacksmith for him to pull a tooth out! An alternative to these ‘remedies’ was to pray to various saints, including especially Saint Apollonia, the patron saint of toothache sufferers. Depictions of St Apollonia show her holding some forceps and an extracted tooth! Dr Beal said that in England there are 17 depictions of St Apollonia in 69 churches, of which about two-thirds are in East Anglia and Devon, on rood screens or in stained glass. An example of the latter is a roundel in Norwich Cathedral.
Dr Beal fielded a number of questions after this very interesting talk, and he was thanked by the Chairman.