Saturday, 9 June 2018

Toothaches of the Emperors and Empress

In 1791 after fourteen-year-old Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich patiently endured a toothache for a long time, the ‘decision was made to pull out the tooth with the permission of Empress Catherine II and his parents. It was safely done by a dentist. The grand duke suffered this action without uttering a small complaint although he felt pain’. There was no anesthetic.

Portrait c1792 (below) of Alexander Pavlovich
Archival documents reveal that during the reign of Alexander I, the court dentist purchased monthly bottles of dental rinses and boxes of tooth powder. From June 7th to December 24th 1816 four hundred and sixteen bottles and twenty-two boxes were bought for 4,070 rubles. In April 1823 Dr. Fonzi who had developed in Paris the technique for fixing artificial porcelain teeth with platinum rods, visited St. Petersburg to make dentures for the emperor.

Portrait c1808 (below) of Emperor Alexander I
Until 1800 artists were forbidden to portray members of the imperial family smiling. Although Madame Vigée Le Brun’s portraits started the trend of women ‘showing their teeth’, men still ‘pressed their lips tightly’.

On Monday December 22nd 1886 Vladimir Lamsdorf with other members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and their wives left St. Petersburg for Gatchina at 7:30pm. ‘The palace illuminated with electricity presents a grand though somewhat gloomy and severe sight. Since the train was a bit late, we were immediately invited to go to the theatre. During the interval, Emperor Alexander III and the grand dukes were smoking in the next room. The ladies stayed in the hall. Empress Maria Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna are very elegant in light blue dresses. The play ends about midnight and after descending the stairs we enter the hall for supper. After dinner at the door to the large drawing room we find ourselves in a mousetrap. Their Majesties must go through this door; they talk and in the meantime we stand pressed to each other like herring in a barrel, not being able to move forward and not daring at the same time to block the passage too much. The Empress is very close to us. I ascertain that her teeth are even more spoiled, black dots are everywhere. Her Majesty probably knows this because she smiles a little unnaturally but cannot hide her bad teeth. Immediately after the passage of Their Majesties, I hasten to the station arriving in Petersburg at 3:00am’.

Photograph c1880s (below) of Empress Maria Feodorovna
The American Henry Wollison, the personal dentist of Alexander III and Nicholas II, lived at 10 Admiralty Embankment near to the Winter Palace.

Court Medical Journal (below) from 1833 to 1918 including the dentisty unit
On Friday July 30th 1899 Dr. Wollison worked on Nicholas II’s teeth in Peterhof ‘from 2 to 4, thanks to Alix strong insistence’. The following Monday, ‘I again had my teeth taken care of from 2:30 until 4:45’. The emperor sympathized with others suffering toothache noting later in Wolfsgarten on Wednesday October 6th that ‘poor Erni’s teeth are in pain; he did not come to dinner and went to bed’.

Photograph (below) was taken by Alexandra in her Winter Palace Study. Although informal, Maria Feodorovna and Nicholas are not smiling.
From 2:30 until 4:15 the dentist Wollison was here to see me’. [Alexander Palace Friday March 26th 1910] ‘Wollison worked on me again’. [Sunday March 28th’] ‘Wollison worked on me from 2 to 4pm’. [Tuesday April 6th] ‘Wollison was with me from 5:30 until 7pm’. [Good Friday April 16th]

Rare photograph (below) of Nicholas II smiling  
My teeth ache in sympathy reading about imperial dentistry. Thankfully I have an appointment this week with the best dentist here in Belleville, Dr. David Kim of Quinte Smiles!


  1. Dentistry has thankfully come along way!(stops clenching teeth now!)
    Ghostie x

  2. I once experienced an excruciating toothache. A root/nerve suddenly, out of the blue, went into dying mode, and it only constant ice water rinses made it halfway manageable. An ER gave me morphine for the pain - as it was a Sunday and my dentist was unavailable. I came to understand how the pain of a extraction w/o anesthesia can truly be nothing much compared to the agony of the "ache" (grossly insufficient word!) itself. Had a modern root-canal the following day & what a relief!

  3. My teeth ache again Thenodore with your story and I was just at the dentist!