by Aunt Clara –
Charles Dickens the esteemed writer loved sweets. When he was a young man walking the streets of London he would always be seen writing in his journal and sucking on what was referred to as a “lolly”. Back in London the term lolly meant tongue or mouth.
These sugary treats commonly called lollies were readily available in London and as everything else about England was so very miserable in that place and time it is understandable that people might want a moment of pure sugary joy.
As one might imagine, dental hygiene being in its infancy, this constant chewing on lollies caused extreme tooth decay. Since there was no such thing as an official dentist, the role of tooth care in small towns and rural communities fell to the local blacksmith. He already had tools such as forceps, and creative smiths were able to forge a “key.” This “key” looked like a door key but could grip a tooth when rotated. The blacksmith was also strong as an ox, so he could hold the patient with one arm while gripping his forceps or key with the other as he extracted the tooth.
Now, when the infected tooth was ripped from the mouth, it was an imprecise business and usually gum and bone would come with it creating a distinct popping noise. When someone was addicted to chewing on lollies they would most likely get to eventually hear the “pop” of their teeth being extracted.
Charles Dickens had heard that horrible pop when he had to have several of his own teeth forcibly removed, and he coined the term “Lollipop” to represent this sugary treat that led to tooth decay. Now you can imagine that Dickens was always writing and always had a pencil in his hand. Dickens had the habit of sticking his lollipop on the end of his pencil and sucking on it whilst he wrote. Dickens had always been a proponent of childhood education and he realized this lollipop pencil might be a great way to get children to learn. He figured that he could suck on a sweet treat while performing their writing and arithmetic, which would cause them to spend more time with pencil and paper. This of course made the local blacksmith happy as his business increased as the lollipops gained popularity. Some local parents pined that Dickens was in cahoots with the blacksmiths and that he was getting a kickback for every tooth pulled!
In larger towns and cities barbers were the ones who performed dentistry and we have all heard the stories of the barber pole being red and white because of the bloody rags that were hung outside after pulling some poor saps teeth out of his mouth. The barber pole was red and white on dentist days and that symbol for barbershops is still in existence. On days when the barber had his bloody bandages on the pole many people would leave town so they did not have to hear the horrible screams coming from that establishment!
Later in life Charles Dickens would lament his role in creating the “lollipop” and would often admonish young children that if they kept sucking on lollipops they would end up in horrible pain at the dentist / barber / blacksmith. He had to chuckle when one young man told him that he sucked on ten lollipops every day and had not had one cavity or one tooth pulled in over eight years. Intrigued Dickens said “how can that be? How can you be sucking on those sugar sticks every day and not get any cavities, that is impossible?” the young man then gave him a huge toothless smile, “it’s easy sir, I just don’t have any teeth”!