Taking as a starting point the portrait on its cover, which was seen as scandalous at the time, The Smile Revolution: In Eighteenth Century Paris explores how smiling became an accepted and eventually expected custom in polite society and, as a consequence, in portraiture, through two related changes, one in dentistry and the other in the acceptance of emotions and emotional displays.
The author, a historian, deftly recounts how sugar consumption rotted teeth, even those of the very privileged, including Louis XIV, who at 40 had no teeth left, in part because of his love for everything sweet and in part because of the astoundingly inept royal “dentist” — and, not unreasonably, he preferred to keep his mouth shut and ordered everyone else at court to follow suit.
A new sensibility in literature, coupled with great improvement in dentistry, made smiles both normal and expected. Much of the book is devoted to the technical improvements in dentistry, including the use of hippopotamus bone to fashion dentures, as well as the amusing marketing efforts of dentists.
Who knew dentistry could be such a fun subject?