In reading Robert Massie’s fascinating biography of Catherine the Great, I came across the following account of a toothache and high fever that persisted for months. It got unbearable when the Princess was traveling in an open sleigh from Moscow to St. Petersburg during a brutal Russian winter. In her diaries she describes the agony she felt. Of course at this time there were no antibiotics and no analgesics.
When the entourage arrived at their destination, the Empress’s chief physician was finally called in to extract the offending tooth. The chief surgeon was French – apparently there were no dentists so medical surgeons filled in as needed. He sat on floor with another surgeon, and both held the Princess down. He wrenched and pulled until she could feel her jaw bone breaking. He had extracted the tooth and with it, a piece of lower jaw. She was confined to bed and was in pain for 4 weeks, her jaw exhibiting blue and yellow bruises from the physician’s fingers.
She survived the ordeal – but aren’t we lucky to have the benefits of modern dental medicine!