With Halloween one week away people are dusting off their copies of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the old R.L. Stein books. It is the time of the year to share stories about Ghouls, Goblins, and everything scary. Even Cinemax is getting into the spirit of Halloween. Recently on their show The Knick, one of the doctor’s wives goes insane after the death of her young daughter. She is sent to an asylum, where she is ‘treated’ by Dr. Cotton. A leading physician of the time, Cotton (played by John Hodgeman of ‘I’m a PC’ fame) believed that mental illnesses were caused by infections elsewhere in the body. To treat his patients he would remove various body parts, always starting with the teeth and moving onto the tonsils, appendix, stomach, or even the colon. He sounds like a character that would have been friends with Dr. Frankenstein, the kind of person that only appears in movies or on TV.
Dr. Cotton was a real person, though, and he really did remove the teeth, along with other bits and pieces of his patients. He ran an Insane Asylum for nearly three decades in the early 1900s, pulling thousands of teeth during his tenure. He operated under the focal infection theory, which stated that mental illnesses, among other types of diseases, were caused by infections in one part of the body that spread and created havoc in another part of the body. Cotton felt that if he could remove the source of the infection, he could cure the patient. This style of treatment seems barbaric by today’s standards, but doctors at the turn of the century did not understand mental illness or germs as we do today.
Cotton believed so strongly in his treatments that he even removed a few of his own teeth in an attempt to treat a heart condition. He also yanked all of his wife’s and two boys’ teeth as a pre-emptive measure to make sure they would not go crazy.
Perhaps the most famous person to receive this treatment was the author Virginia Woolf. She suffered from mental illness for most of her life, writing about it in several of her books. In 1927 she had several of her teeth pulled in order to cure her depression. She later wrote sourly in her journal about the treatment, saying that her teeth “probably would have lasted the rest of my life”. In her book Mrs. Dalloway she based the character of a fumbling young doctor with a penchant for removing teeth on her own experiences at asylums.
Thankfully dentistry has come a long way in the last one hundred years. Nowadays nobody would dream of pulling out all of your teeth in an attempt to cure heart disease. But if you are looking for a scary Halloween story with its roots based in reality, Dr. Cotton is a good place to start.
Dr. Potts is a gentle, caring dentist who uses the most advanced materials and procedures available. He practices comfortable, health-centered dentistry, with a strong emphasis on getting to know each patient. In addition to his technical proficiency, Dr. Potts is a careful listener. He makes sure to understand what you want and will explain beforehand what treatment is best for your individual needs, along with all options available to you. Check out our Twitter, Facebook page, and website.