Picture this: After lunch, you and a few friends decide to go for a walk through the park. The sun is shining and, as people picnic and dogs chase after tennis balls, a live band starts to play a familiar melody. Then, just as you’re about to tell your friends how nice of a day it is, you see the horrifying sight of a dentist pulling a patient’s tooth right there in the center of the park! As you rub your eyes in disbelief, the dental professional announces to the crowd, “If the extraction’s not painless, I’ll gladly give you your money back!”
Your first instinct might be to call the police, but you would, in fact, be reporting a licensed dentist. His name was Edgar R. R. Parker, and he would later become known all over the country as “Painless Parker.”
Originally a sailor, Parker enrolled in New York College of Dentistry in the late 1800s. He was expelled, however, once the school discovered his door-to-door tooth-pulling business. He later attained a degree from a school now known as Temple University after begging the dean to allow him to graduate—which the dean did.
Since, in those years, it was unconventional for health care providers to solicit new patients, Parker saw only one patient in the first month and a half of his new practice. But, being both relentless and sharp, Parker came up with a scheme to build up a sizable clientele.
In 1913, using a showy horse-drawn carriage, tattoo artists, little people, and a large music ensemble, “Painless Parker” turned dentistry into a circus-like act. He would start the show with a few facts about oral hygiene, then invite a “volunteer” from the crowd up to the stage. Using the tooth he had planted in his hand, he pretended to pull a tooth from the fake volunteer’s mouth, who would admit the operation was painless. Parker would then explain to the crowd, who were lining up to get their own teeth pulled, that the price was a half dollar, and, if the operation caused any pain, he would pay the patient five dollars (which he never possessed). After the patient settled into the operating chair, Parker stomped his foot to get the musicians to play their instruments at full blast, as he had discovered that the loud music was perfect for masking the screams of his tortured patients.
Since Novocain was not yet invented, Parker made his own numbing solution that he called “hydrocaine.” The hydrocaine, which was made from diluted cocaine, was applied directly to the tooth decay, and when it wasn’t enough to stop the pain, he gave his patients whiskey.
Unsurprisingly, Parker wasn’t popular among his colleagues. The ADA stated that he was “a menace to the dignity of the profession.” However, despite his critics, Parker opened 30 Painless Parker Dental Clinics throughout California and legally changed his name to Painless Parker, thereby avoiding any future lawsuits regarding deceitful advertising.
Parker, despite being untruthful, did a lot for the dental community. For instance, he believed in inexpensive healthcare and wouldn’t charge for preliminary assessments. He gave out vouchers, allowed patients without means to use credit, and educated the public—through his advertisements—on the importance of dental hygiene.
If you’re interested in more strange but interesting facts on dentistry, follow Periodontal Associates of Memphis on Facebook!
Also, if you need to schedule an appointment (which will not take place in the middle of a park), you can do so here.