In the 18th and 19th century dentures were made from a variety of materials; ivory, bone, animal teeth, ceramics, and others. However the best dentures were those constructed from genuine second hand human teeth. Such dentures were rare and expensive as there was a very limited supply of teeth available to construct them. A lucky dentist might be able to acquire the teeth of an executed criminal, granted the criminal not have bad teeth. Body snatchers were also a common source. While body snatching was often done to provide cadavers for medical schools, corpses could also be unearthed by snatchers for their teeth. War was particularly profitable time for dentists, who would often hang around battlefields so that they could yank the teeth of fallen soldiers after the fighting had ended. Such a practice was especially common during the Napoleonic Wars as large battles of the war such as Austerlitz, Jena, and Leipzig resulted in fields strewn with tens of thousands of corpses. The Battle of Waterloo was most notorious for teeth scavengers. Located in Belgium, Waterloo was the crossroads of Europe, not far from France, the Netherlands, England, and Germany. Thus there was an opportunity for dentists and denture makers from many nations to converge upon the battlefield in order to scavenge teeth. In addition, being the last major battle of the Napoleonic Wars, it was the last chance for dentists to score an easy source of second hand teeth before peace broke out and once again constrained the second hand teeth market. The pickings were very rich as the carnage of Waterloo would result in the deaths of over 50,000 men. As a result, dentures constructed from soldiers teeth, regardless of which battlefield they originated from were often called “Waterloo Teeth”. The practice of scavenging battlefields for teeth would continue to a lesser extent during the Crimean War and American Civil War.
The British Dental Association Museum features a large collection of Waterloo Teeth.