Practically Painless Dentistry?

A group of dentists working together in a central location and offering all sorts of dental procedures, painlessly – that’s a modern invention, right? Wrong! Back at the turn of the last century, there were several dental groups that advertised “Painless Dentistry”.

False Advertising

Painless_dentist_SpokaneChronicleWash_oct21_1904 - Newspapers.co

How painless were they? It’s hard to determine that now, but several made that claim. The first outfit I came across that advertised “…teeth extracted, filled or crowned without pain…” was the Boston Painless Dentists (shown at left), advertising, not in Boston, but way out in Seattle, Portland, and Tacoma in 1904. My first thought was that they were probably using cocaine, or some other now-banned drug to help with the pain. They did not reveal their pain-relief methods.

Then there was the Chicago Painless Dentists (shown below), again, not practicing in Chicago, but in Portland, Oregon. They claimed to extract teeth, “…WITHOUT PAIN. Nothing inhaled – no gas, no chloroform or ether – and above all, no cocaine…” That sounds good, doesn’t it? Possibly better than the Boston Painless Dentists.

A Fairy Tale You Say?

Moving East toward the middle of the United States, we run into the New York Painless Dentists (shown below). Why are all these groups of dentists named for Eastern towns? I don’t know; possibly because it made them sound more professional, being from “back East”. They apparently operated out of the Kansas area, although they also claimed to have offices in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.

FtScottDailyTribuneKansas6/14/1911 - Newspapers.com
Ft. Scott Daily Tribune, Ft. Scott, Kansas, June 14, 1911.

Again, they do not state what they do (or don’t do) that makes their dentistry painless, so we can only guess. If you read the testimonials, they apparently had many satisfied customers. If they used some mixture of alcohol or cocaine, I’m not surprised they had happy customers (and pain-free procedures!

Painless Romine — Man of Mystery

Painless Dentist Oshkosh Northwestern, Wisconson, 7/2/1910 - New
The Menasha Record, Wisconsin, April 18, 1910.

One other dental group I identified in newspaper ads placed during the turn of the century was practicing painless dentistry in the Midwest — the Union Painless Dentists, fronted by a dentist by the name of Romine (sometimes misspelled “Romaine”). In the advertisements (one shown above), he is sometimes referred to as the Manager of the Union Painless Dentists.

While he may have started off as a real person, he eventually becomes a figurehead for the Union Painless Dentists. He is at first referred to as S.A. Romine, M.D.H.D, D.D.S., but after a few years, the advertisements I found simply refer to him as “Painless Romine”. I could not find any information regarding his dental degree, schooling, or town of origin. He claimed to make dentistry painless by way of drugs he had developed: Anzone, Man-No-Pain and Nox-U. Needless to say, the ads list no ingredients. They claim exclusivity to Union Painless Dentists and Dr. Romine.

Post_Crescent_AppletonWisc_June4_1910 - Newspapers.com
The Post Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, June 4, 1910.

Setting Up Shop

The method for the Union Painless Dentists and various other dental groups, was to create a permanent office in one town, then travel to surrounding towns and set up shop in local hotels. The dentists would advertise to the public that they were available to treat patients for a limited time in the temporary location.

Painless_Dentist_ad_LeotiStandard_Kansas_Jan12_1905 - Newspapers
Leoti Standard, Kansas, January 12, 1905.

It appears “Painless Romine” and the Union Painless Dentists continued until the early 1920s, or at least after that period ads were no longer in newspapers. By the 1920s, the Union Painless Dentists group was referred to as the Union Dental Company and they advertised “practically painless” dentistry, not completely painless dentistry. Perhaps their remedies weren’t so effective, after all.

“Painless Romine” had the last laugh, though, as this little newspaper blurb states.

Painless_Dentistry_SalinaKS_March 19_1920 - Newspapers.com
The Salina Daily Union, Kansas, March 19, 1920.

Guest blogger Jenn Ochman, Database Publishing Production Specialist in the Branding and Communication Department at Benco Dental, dedicates her time outside work to historical reenactment. She shares knowledge of dental history with TheDailyFloss.com readers on a monthly basis.