London In Teeth

M@
By M@
London In Teeth
Sweet Toof on a pink bollard

According to the American stereotype, we Brits all have bad teeth. It's not true, of course. But we do have a surprising amount of dental culture when you look around. From street art, to museum exhibits, to sculptures, to major infrastructure projects... here are 11 ways that teeth have made their mark on the capital. Jaw in for a treat.

1. The British Dental Association Museum

Set of metal jaws with real human teeth at the British Dental Association Museum

Our first toothsome destination is also the most bountiful. The British Dental Association on Wimpole Street houses its own museum, packed to the gum-walls with dental curiosities. Pictured above are a set of real human teeth bonded to a metal frame, as used by generations of dental students. Sadly, the museum is currently closed to the public, but you can view our extensive gallery of its most intriguing exhibits.

2. Shoreline jawline

An animal jaw bone on the Thames foreshore

The Thames foreshore is awash with old animal bones including, as we recently discovered, intact jaws. It's easy enough to find these fragments lying around. Just bear in mind that there are rules about what you can and can't do, when it comes to picking up objects on the foreshore.

3. From the horse's mouth

A set of horse's teeth in a statue

On top of Wellington Arch is a gigantic sculpture of Peace on a chariot, being pulled along by four less-than-peaceful horses. Sculptor Adrian Jones carved the horses in fine detail, even though you can make none of it out from ground level. I was lucky enough to get up close to the sculpture in 2016 during the monument's most recent refresh and, my word, those teeth. The bronze dentures could have your arm off.

4. Sweet Toof's street teeth

Street art teeth along the top of a wall
Sweet Toof often collaborates with other artists, as here with Cept at Village Underground

Sweet Toof is one of London's most prolific and enduring (dare we say long-in-the-tooth?) street artists. His trademark teeth with lurid pink gums have been decorating the capital for decades. Why has the pseudonymous artist persisted so long with his toothy interventions? "Teeth can be really sexy," he says, "or aggressive, but they're also constant reminders of death. They're how we get recognised by police when there's nothing else left."

5. The Giant's Teeth

The dragons' teeth

Harmondsworth Moor out in Hillingdon is littered with blocks of granite that have no geological excuse for being here. They're actually fragments from the Old Waterloo Bridge, transported here for storage when the span was demolished in the 1930s. A dozen or so of the stones have been arranged into a kind of henge, known locally as the Giant's Teeth. One can image, a thousand years from now, archaeologists stumbling across these lithic dentures and wondering why the ancients put them here. "Unwanted rubble from an old bridge 20 miles away" is unlikely to top their ideas sheet.

6. The cutting edge of teeth

Cutting edge

London's most powerful teeth are those embedded on the cutting heads of tunnel boring machines. These vast machines have rarely rested over the past decade or so, with projects such as Crossrail, the Thames Tideway Tunnel, the London Power Tunnels, HS2 and the Northern line extension all needing a whirling disc of metallic teeth. This particular one was pictured in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 2017, whence it bored a new gas-main tunnel beneath the Thames. She's called 'Amanda', incidentally.

7. The growling bulldog

Bulldog teeth

This is the figurehead from HMS Bulldog, a wooden paddle sloop launched in 1845. The menacing mutt wears a spiked collar carrying the words "Beware of the dog" — sound advice if confronted with such a fearsome bite.

8. A different kind of dental plaque

Plaque to Lillian Lindsay

Lilian Lindsay's plaque in Russell Square understates her commitment to dentistry. She was not only the first woman to qualify as a dentist, but also went on to become the first female president of the British Dental Association and an editor of the British Dental Journal (and even that's barely scraping the enamel). Lindsay's resolve was phenomenal. She knew she wanted to pursue a dental career from a young age, but had to first get past a succession of dismissive male gatekeepers. That she not only succeeded, but then rose to the very top of her profession, makes her one of the most deserving people imaginable for a blue plaque. This one started life on her former home in Holloway, which was illegally demolished in 2019. It's now on the north side of Russell Square where she lived above the BDA's offices and founded the BDA library.

9. A toothy medic

A plaque to howard henry tooth

Tooth is, of course, also a surname, and an apt one for nominative determinism. This guy, Howard Henry Tooth, got close. He embarked upon a medical profession and was one of the co-discoverers of Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease... which sounds like a dental issue but is actually a neurological disorder. You'll find his memorial inside St Bartholomew-the-Less church, within the Bart's complex.

10. Vintage tooth care

Tooth pastes

The BDA Museum might be closed at the moment, but there are many other medically flavoured museums about town which have a dalliance with teeth. This collection of tooth pastes — including a tempting cherry-flavoured concoction — can be found within the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's museum near the Tower of London. It's free to visit and open during week days.

11. The friendliest dentist

Friendly Place

And we have to finish with a trip to the dentist. Most of us find the experience mildly intimidating. Less so the lucky people who live on the Greenwich-Lewisham borders, because their local dentist is reassuringly situated on Friendly Place. That said, the CCTV camera does somewhat detract from that welcoming street name.

All images by Matt Brown, except for the metal gnashers at the BDA Museum, photographed by Will Noble.

Last Updated 08 April 2024