Posts Tagged ‘Painless Parker’

The quack street dentists of New York City

June 14, 2009

In 1910, The New York Times published an investigative piece on the unlicensed, unregulated, and in many cases totally uneducated people who were opening dental “parlors.”¬†

dentistimageNYTThese hucksters filled cavities and pulled teeth . . . and left patients in much worse shape than they started out in. Up to 3,000 so-called dentists were ruining the mouths of poor and/or immigrant residents.

Dentistry was a newish field of medicine, and it was easy for these “pestilential practitioners” to open shop.

“A little girl named Ellen Kelly was taken to a “parlor” in Grand Street to have some teeth out and died as a result,” the article states, recounting other victim stories.

Probably the most famous street dentist was Edgar Parker. He actually went to dental school but became a true street dentist in New York City at the turn of the century, offering his services on the sidewalk accompanied by  dancing girls and a brass band.


According to his New York Times obituary, he canvassed neighborhoods with his forceps, pulling teeth on the spot and touting his totally painless dental methods. When authorities tried to shut him down (since dentistry back then was anything but painless), he legally changed his name to “Painless Parker.”