It’s not unusual for construction workers to find historical objects inside of walls. But the team renovating the T.B. Converse Building in Valdosta, in the U.S. stat of Georgia, were caught off guard when they found an estimated 1,000 teeth buried in a second-floor wall. The weirdest thing is that the same thing has happened in two other Georgia towns.
The likely explanation for these discoveries isn’t as creepy as it could be, but it’s also not not creepy. What the three locations have in common is the fact that they were once dentists’ offices. In the case of the most recent situation in Valdosta, two dentists occupied the second-floor office of the Converse Building from its construction in 1900 until at least 1930. A current Valdosta dentist named Dr. Pat Powell recently found an old receipt for a tooth extraction from this very office, shedding some light on how those many hundreds of teeth ended up in the wall. There were previously teeth found in the walls of former dentists offices in Greensboro and Carrolton, Georgia.
Just a heads up, there is a photo of a pile of human teeth below. It’s not too bad, unless you start zooming in:
These facts all demand we ask, why the heck did these Southern dentists stored people’s teeth inside of walls? Was this standard procedure or just a local hobby? And furthermore, why did they just leave all the teeth inside the wall, when they moved out of the office? Wouldn’t it seem unusual for future generations to find a giant mountain of human teeth if the wall ever got taken down? That kind of thing could really take the fun out of having some exposed brick detail in someone’s historical office building, because who knows maybe there are human teeth in the bricks, too.
It’s hard to know the answers to these questions for sure. One likely explanation might be the fact that sanitation and waste management services simply didn’t exist in many parts of the country at the turn of the 20th century. After all, New York City built the nation’s first garbage incinerator in 1885, just a couple decades before the creepy teeth-collecting presumably started in Valdosta. It’s possible that the dentists just didn’t have a better place to put the teeth. And while a reasonable person might suggest burning the medical waste in a barrel out behind the building would have sufficed, it’s possible that would have been considered bad manners.
Another thing worth considering is the public health implications of throwing rotten teeth into a standard garbage pile. While cavities are a nuisance when the tooth is inside a person’s mouth, the bacteria that cause them can be very dangerous. Recent research shows that cavity-causing microbes can actually invade a person’s heart, causing a deadly infection. This specific information was not readily available to World War I-era dentists; however, the germ theory was well established by the time these teeth ended up in the walls. It’s possible that the dentists were just trying to keep the bacteria on extracted teeth away from other patients. Which does raise the incineration question again, but you know, maybe it would have been a fire hazard.
One more explanation is that storing teeth in the walls was some sort of tradition. People did store a lot of weird things in walls back in the day, and it is not uncommon for people to find anything from an old shoe to half a dog’s skull in the walls of old American buildings. Similarly, the longer history of tooth disposal reveals some very strange rituals. All over the world, from Russia to Mexico, there has been documented evidence of giving children’s lost teeth to rats and mice with the belief that this might help the kids grow new teeth that are as strong as the rodents’. So maybe the dentists dumped the teeth in the walls to give the rats a feast of teeth and, hence, lots of good luck to their patients.
Outside of superstition, it might have been a turn-of-the-century dentist’s habit to save extracted teeth in order to make dentures, as was the custom. This theory would actually explain why the dentists didn’t just burn the teeth. They were effectively supplies for helping more patients. Making well-fitting dentures must have been hard back then, too, so you could maybe assume that the dentists wanted a lot of tooth options to choose from. Then again, it’s still pretty weird to store teeth in the wall. Why not store them in a box on the shelf, like a normal medical professional?
So here we are. It’s 2018, we’ve found many hundreds of teeth inside the walls of some dentists’ office, and we’re left with more questions than answers. But what fun would mysteries be, if they were easily solved? About as fun as a wall full of a thousand human teeth.
Featured image: Michael Rivera (Wikicommons)