The Smile Revolution is very niche. Think of a niche as a shallow recess: an orifice. This is the subject of this oddly compelling book.
King Louis XIV sat on the French throne for seventy two years, the longest reign of any crowned head in Europe. He was the ‘Sun King’, an absolute monarch who transformed France into a great power. Versailles, once a hunting lodge, became the centre of his empire and one of the largest palaces in the world. Louis’ influence was profound, his every word and gesture considered, discussed, imitated. Louis, unlike his predecessors, did not wear a beard, and in his forties lost all his teeth. Clean shaven, and with a puckered mouth, Louis avoided smiling and if the king frowned, the frown became a fashion statement. Smiling was considered ‘an affectation which artists, connoisseurs and people of good taste are unanimous in condemning.’
When Louis needed significant and painful surgery to remove an anal fistula, courtiers approached their doctors complaining of a similar ailment, and many expressed profound disappointment to be told they did not need treatment. After Louis’ death and the rise of professional dentistry, smiling was less frowned upon. Tooth pulling was theatre, the poor were often paid for their teeth, battlefield corpses were often robbed of their teeth for dentures. Soon sufficient progress was made for dentistry to accept that teeth could be saved from the pliers. Smiling not only revealed your sensibility, it demonstrated you were wealthy enough to afford dental treatment.
But the country grew restless and ‘the Terror’, the bloodbath that followed the revolution of 1789, wiped away a generation of progressives. Antoine Lavoisier, the pioneering chemist, went to the guillotine. So did many dentists. France was once again plunged into dental darkness and the smile would remain unfashionable and uncouth for over a century.