Tooth key
Metal and Wood
Circa 1820s
Artifact Collection, Gift of COSI, Medical Heritage Center

A tooth key also known as a dental key is an instrument that was used in dentistry to extract diseased teeth. Modeled after a door key, the tooth key was used by first inserting the instrument horizontally into the mouth, its claw tightened over a tooth and then rotated to loosen the tooth. The original design dating back to the 1700s featured a straight shaft, which caused it to exert pressure on the tooth next to the one being extracted. This led to a newer design in 1765 by Ferdinand Julius Leber where the shaft was slightly bent. The tooth key presented here is one of the newer designs with a slightly bent shaft.