Victorian smokers had rotten teeth to match lungs

MOLA team

( © Reuters, Stefano Ambrogi. This article orginally appeared on the Reuters website.)

Smoking was as bad for the Victorians as it is for anyone today, but back in those days it seems it did far more damage to their teeth. In the mid-19th century, prior to the invention of the cigarette, when tobacco was copiously consumed through clay pipes, smoking often resulted in nasty dental disfigurement.

A Museum of London study of skeletal remains excavated from a Victorian cemetery in Whitechapel, east London, found most people had "notches" in at least two, and often four, front teeth made through the habitual holding of pipe stems.

Osteological analysis of 268 adults buried between 1843 and 1854 found that some disfigurement had occurred in 92 percent of adults exhumed, while wear associated with habitual use of pipes was evident in 23 percent.

"In many cases, a clear circular "hole' was evident when the upper and lower jaws were closed," said Donald Walker, human osteologist at Museum of London Archaeology Service.

Males were affected far more frequently than females.

The study, published to coincide with national No Smoking Day in Britain, also found a number of young adult skeletons had tell-tale notches, suggesting pipe-smoking may have begun in childhood.

Clay pipes, which for the gentrified classes could be up to 18 inches long, were the cigarette butts of their day and can be dated right back to the Elizabethan period when tobacco was first imported to Europe from the New World.

Cigarettes were mass produced for the first time in the United States in 1860 and by 1881 were being widely consumed in Britain, sounding the death knell for the clay pipe.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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