Were Barbers Really Dentists? What Dental Procedures They Performed

May 5, 2022

The thought of going to the barber for a dental cleaning or root canal seems odd today. But just a few centuries ago, barber surgeons were incredibly common.

The Idea of Barbers and a Timeline for Barber Surgeons

The idea of barbers goes back to 3,500 B.C. during the Bronze Age. But at this time, it didn’t necessarily include dentistry or surgery, just haircuts and shaving facial hair. By about 296 B.C., barbering became popular in Rome.

The first Barbers’ Company charter was created in 1462. At that time, it explicitly included “drawing teeth” as one of the services its members provided. The merger that led to barber surgeons took place in 1540, at which point that profession handled pulling teeth.

It is also worth noting that barber surgeons included both men and women.

What Barber Dentists or Barber Surgeons Did

Barber surgeons did a little bit of everything. On the “barber” side, they would cut hair. In terms of dentistry, they would pull teeth. They were also surgeons who performed minor surgeries. They even applied leeches and fixed broken bones as medical professionals.

Essentially, you can think of barber surgeons as general practitioners that handle everything.

Dental Services

The most common dental service from barber surgeons was pulling teeth to treat tooth decay. But they could also make false teeth using cow bone and human teeth. Moreover, they would fill cavities.

A Side Note on Oral Health by Class

It may surprise you to learn that during the time of the barber surgeon, poor people were more likely to have healthy teeth than rich people. This was because of sugar consumption. At that time, it was still mostly a thing for the rich. The lower classes ate minimal sugar; they didn’t have much access to it.

When Barbers and Surgeons Became Separate

You could find barber surgeons throughout numerous countries until the middle of the 18th century. This was the case until 1745 when barbers and surgeons became separate professions.

Tooth-drawers Also Existed

While you may have heard of barber surgeons or barber dentists before, you may not have heard of tooth-drawers. These existed at the same time, and they were specialists. They claimed to have better dental knowledge. They commonly advertised “pain-free” treatment. Based on records, we know that tooth-drawers existed at least as early as 1320. Like barber surgeons, there were both male and female tooth-drawers.

There Were Also Those With “Preventative” Treatments

The same period also saw several different so-called preventative treatments for dental issues, none of which worked. It was common to find “quacks” selling formulas that could cure toothache and prevent the need for extraction.

While people today don’t want their teeth extracted, this was even more the case in those days when there were no local anesthetics. Tooth-drawers took advantage of this. But it is not as much of a concern today when Dr. Sharma can give you an anesthetic while removing your tooth and replacing it with an implant or crown. You can learn more about our expertise and procedures by contacting our general dentist in Palos Heights.


From at least the 15th century, if not earlier, barbers and barber surgeons pulled teeth and were the equivalent of today’s dentists. This continued until the 18th century when barbers and surgeons formed two separate professions.


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