Open wide and say ...

In 1914, there were eight dentists serving a population of almost 9,500 in New Castle. The whole state only had 1,300 (in 2012, it could claim more than twice that).

Catherine's father, William Winters, fresh from his Illinois farm, had learned his trade at a respected school in Chicago attempting to standardize dentistry at a time when dental mills basically sold diplomas and unleashed quacks onto a toothsore public. He would have studied microbes and all the latest discoveries concerning dental health.

But sad to say for the people of the period, there was still a lot left to discover.

Winters learned to pull teeth, lance infections and make dental plates at a (to us, nightmarish) moment in history before toothpaste, antibiotics, disposable needles, adequate pain relief or any preventative care to speak of. The X-ray was a brand-new and still rare resource for the dentist of the period.

So most people went to the dentist when they had to—when they were in pain, when their toothache was unbearable or their jaw swollen. They expected more pain once in the dentist’s chair. Using primitive-looking (at least to us today) hand tools, his job required speed, strength and the dread of his fellow citizens. For this he could expect an annual salary of about $2,500—not bad compared with the upwards of $500 a year the average American earned.

Of course it wouldn't be enough to find his daughter. In later years, some patients would complain about Dr. Winters' dirty tools and grim office manner, but it's impossible to say if those stories resulted from the facts, the notoriety of his lost daughter—or his turn-of-the-century dental training.

Posted on April 30, 2014 .