Everything Old Is New Again

While Benco Dental, the nation’s largest privately owned dental distributor,  has been delivering success smile after smile® for over 75 years, not every company these days has stood  the test of time. Below, discover a bit of history regarding several dental companies that have been influencing the profession, some for over a century. H.D. Justi […]

Have toothpicks gone by the wayside? #thedailyfloss won’t shed a tear.

While floss (!) and interdental brushes offer safer solutions for cleaning in between teeth, people have been picking their teeth for hundreds of years. Just ask Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaplan, who recently discussed evidence that Neanderthals used toothpicks for dentistry. Signs of toothpick use have been seen in Neanderthal skulls, according to James Wynbrandt in […]

Mercury Discharge: What are its dangers and how is it affecting dental practices?

Mercury An element commonly seen in thermometers in its silver-white liquid form, mercury vaporizes at temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The vapor is colorless and odorless, is readily absorbed by the blood, and evenly distributes in the brain, kidney, heart, lungs, and liver. However, it demonstrates a predilection for collecting in the central […]

Murder most foul. Can you guess the first dentist to offer ‘expert testimony’?#forensic-dentistry.

Two invaluable dental forensics equipment tools that we can’t live without Today we have wonderful dental inventions such as the NOMAD eXaminer™ and NOMAD Pro 2™, hand-held x-ray machines (shown, courtesy ForensicDentistryblogspot.com) that can be used in places where traditional x-ray machines are impractical. The NOMAD got its start in forensic dentistry, first being used […]

Are bad teeth to blame for people not smiling in historical photographs? #tbt

Did you ever look at stacks of old photos at an antique store and wonder why people hardly ever smiled? Could it be because they were ashamed of missing and decayed teeth? Possibly.

The state of dentistry during much of the 19th century was quite awful, and the answer to pain in a tooth usually was to just pull it, rather than try to save it. Plenty of people went around with missing teeth and compromised smiles because of it. Still, after some research, while poor dental health would make a sitter’s smile unattractive, that seems not to have been the driving force behind lack of grins.

A more plausible reason: Early photography was seen as a successor to professionally-painted portraits. People wanted to appear dignified and serious in their portrait and that carried over to photography. Most people thought smiling made them look ridiculous.

According to Nicholas Jeeves, who wrote an extensive article on the topic, by the 17th century “it was a well-established fact that the only people who smiled broadly, in life and in art, were the poor, the lewd, the drunk, the innocent, and the entertainment.”

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Mark Twain, straight-faced .

Even Mark Twain, who liked to laugh and make others laugh, felt smiling in a photograph was undignified. In a letter to the Sacramento Daily Union, Twain wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.” Photography was a serious business, costly to have done and cameras were difficult to operate.

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What made us change our minds?
A name well-known in photography and dentistry, Kodak, had the world smiling and saying “cheese” in photos by the 1950s. The company’s clever combination included cameras so easy to operate (and affordable) a child could use them, and distinctive marketing. Kodak developed the famous $1 Brownie camera (shown) in 1900. It’s tagline: “You press the button, we do the rest.”

L0031706 Ephemera Collection: QV: Advertising: 1850-1

During much of the 19th century, advertising tended toward a “warning” —  if a consumer did not buy a particular product, bad things would happen. By the time Kodak introduced its new camera, advertisers touted product satisfaction instead of the avoidance of a negative experience. Kodak sold happiness; they focused on the pleasure of consumption. In 1893, the company introduced the Kodak Girl (below) pictured as smiling and happy, taking photos with her Kodak. Since people were having fun in front of and behind the lens, they were encouraged to smile. Smiling in photographs came to be encouraged and eventually, expected.

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An early version of the Kodak Girl.

The Kodak Brownie camera made photography cheap and easy, so people started taking photos on picnics, holidays, road trips, all while out having fun. Folks didn’t have to choose a single expression to serve as their memorial for the ages. We can only imagine what they’d think of the hundreds of thousands of pics that are now taken every minute, complete with our foolish smirks, photobombs, and compromising selfies.

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Jenn Ochman’s antique likeness (shown, above left), captured by Rob Gibson. Rob creates photos as it was done in the 1860s, in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, using antique equipment and methods. He has produced antique photos for the The History Channel, Ken Burns’ films, and various documentaries.

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.