Why Do Amish Pull Teeth?


The Amish are a robust, self-sufficient society that resides mainly in the American midwest. They value traditional Christian ideals, often rejecting modern technology in favor of handcrafting, horse-drawn transportation, and manual labor. With these values, it should be no surprise that Amish medical treatment—including dentistry—differs significantly from contemporary practice.

Members of Amish society often pull their own teeth because they object to the monetary impact of professional dental care. The Amish believe it is more sensible and cost-efficient to remove their teeth at a young age and replace them with dentures.

Amish “dentists” are often unlicensed in the field, employing crude extraction techniques with pliers and drills. Additionally, numbing agents for the patient may not be available. Amish dental care is a practical if painful, experience. Its justification lies within a particular societal way of life, which shall be examined more closely in the following section.

pulling teeth
Are Amish people forbidden from going to a dentist? See below

How the Amish Way of Life Impacts Their Dental Health

The Amish owe their roots to Germany and France. In the early 1700s, many of them migrated from Europe to Pennsylvania, mainly to preserve their stout resistance to organized government and bureaucratic authority. [1] In the following centuries, different branches of Amish communities formed, some with more tolerant views of the modern world.

Such “tolerant” views maintain a safe distance from the contemporary way of life. For instance, a sect of the Amish called “The New Order Amish” permits the use of electricity and modern machinery so long as it does not go against the society’s adherence to conservative values. [2]

In-class education for the Amish usually ceases at the 8th-grade level. This practice is practical for them, as their lives strongly focus on carpentry, sewing, cooking, and farming. Many Amish dentists practice with this same level of textbook education; they are self-taught in the field. Thus, they practice without a proper license.

The Amish way of life—one of Anabaptist tradition, humility, and nonconformity—does not prohibit modern dental care. Yet, most Amish don’t pursue it due to their dedication to the old ways or an inability to pay the bill. Whatever the reason, dental care among Amish communities may seem crude to modern standards.

Amish dentist
Does research show that Amish people have healthy teeth? See below

Do Amish People Generally Have Healthy Teeth?

Based on the information presented thus far, it can be challenging to imagine members of any Amish community with healthy teeth. Society’s middle and upper classes, who regularly schedule dental check-ups twice per year, question the thought of unrefined dentistry.

The dental health of the Amish tends to vary from person to person. Some have perfectly healthy teeth, whereas others suffer dental caries (tooth decay). Still, others have had most, or all of their teeth pulled and replaced with dentures.

A 1985 study by professional dentists in southwest Michigan produced surprising results. Researchers examined 68 Amish children under 17 in a mobile dental unit. Tooth decay and other ailments, such as gum disease, were low—3.6 times lower than the national average among children of the same age.

To be more precise, dentists took periodontal measurements on the children. [3] A periodontal record has to do with the depth of gum pockets that hold each tooth. Healthy pockets range from 2 to 3 millimeters (0.08 to 0.12 in).

The 68 Amish children came back with an average of 2 mm (0.08 in), whereas the national average of children in the same age bracket is over 6 mm (0.24 in). Six mm (0.24) is too high, but two mm (0.08) is just right.

Why the Amish children had healthier teeth became a subject of debate. However, the consensus opinion reasoned that because the Amish have less sugar in their diet, their teeth remained strong—or tended to remain strong—well into adulthood.

pull teeth

Do Amish People Wear Dentures?

Though dental health among the Amish is an interfusion of strong and weak teeth, some can be stubborn about what doctors they see for specific ailments and why. In addition, as mentioned earlier, it is common for the Amish to forgo modernity in favor of more straightforward solutions.

It is not uncommon for the Amish to replace all their teeth with dentures. The procedure typically takes place at a young age to curtail any dental issues that would cost too much money. The Amish also see dentures as a way to avoid repeated visits to modern dentists over a period of years.

Trained molders make Amish dentures right within the community. This practice is widespread among the Old Order Amish. The procedure is as follows:

  1. After fitting dental molds onto a patient’s gums, the denture maker fills the molds with quick-setting gel.
  2. The mold is placed back onto the gums while the gel sets. 
  3. The mold and gel are removed, and it’s time for the patient to choose a color.

Old Order Amish will typically charge between $250 and $300 for a new set of dentures. This cost is far from the $1000 to $5000 owed to most prosthodontists for doing similar work. The risk, though, lies in allowing a non-licensed tradesperson to perform the task.

What Is Unique About Pulling Teeth Among the Amish?

“Amish tooth doctors,” as outsiders sometimes call them, seldom have access to modern dental training. Instead, their belief system puts them in a position where they are either self-taught in pulling teeth or home-trained by other Amish dentists.

The Amish rarely use modern dental amenities when pulling teeth. A pair of pliers and a small cutting blade are standard tools for the procedure. Numbing agents such as Novocaine are available only half of the time. Still, during tooth extraction, children are not allowed to cry.

One unlicensed Amish dentist described the way he pulled wisdom teeth. He first makes a cross-cut section across the gums, then takes hold of the tooth and pulls. In his exact words: “Most pop out slick as a whistle.” [4]

Amish dentists do not always charge for their service. Donations are accepted instead. The way the Amish pull teeth have been practiced for as long as any community member can recall.

Conclusion

Dentures are common among the Amish. For example, a community dentist pulls unhealthy teeth as patients prefer to avoid repeated, costly visits to modern offices.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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