Painless Parker: The Showman Dentist

At Temple University’s dental museum in Philadelphia, there’s a small section dedicated to one of America’s most notorious dentists—a so-called “painless Parker,” who claimed that his tooth extraction procedure was so painless that he volunteered. Will refund ten times his fee if the operation caused any pain. In fact, the nickname “Painless” was not just a nickname; He had legally changed his name to Painless Parker. The truth was anything but.

A necklace of extracted teeth that Parker painlessly wore on his way to work.

Painless Parker was born Edgar Randolph Parker in Tynemouth Creek, New Brunswick, in 1872. Edgar showed proof of being a natural born salesman from a very young age. At the age of 7 he sold the school playground to a fellow classmate for 20 cents. At the age of 9, Edgar bargained with a neighbor to obtain a hen, eggs and a chicken coop, with plans to become a chicken farmer. Edgar was rebellious and mischievous. He often made excuses for illness so that he could drop out of school. Once he acquired a wagon and a horse and became a street peddler selling trinkets. His father did not approve of Edgar’s pedaling and sold his wagon. In protest, Edgar left the house and signed one if his uncle’s ship was going to Barbados.

While at sea, Edgar was hurt and ended up in a hospital in Buenos Aires. After spending an entire summer in the hospital, Edgar began to appreciate the work of doctors and decided to become a doctor himself. Because his mother was a devout Christian and did not believe in medicine, Edgar chose a career in dentistry. He liked the idea that he might be able to save people the kind of pain that his mother had endured for a long time with an impacted wisdom tooth.

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Edgar Randolph Parker

In 1889, Parker enrolled at the New York College of Dentistry. To support himself financially, he performed door to door dentistry and set up an office soon after taking admission. This was a violation of college policy and Parker was expelled from the college. That same year, he attended Philadelphia Dental College (now Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry), graduating in 1892 at the age of twenty. Parker was a poor student, and he graduated only because he requested his dean to pass him. After Dean did so, Parker moved to Canada to start working as a dentist.

At that time soliciting patients in the profession was considered immoral. He may join clubs and he may be active in community efforts but he should never directly ask for patients’ business. After 6 weeks without seeing a single patient, Parker decided to throw ethics aside and launched an advertising campaign. In exchange for a new set of dentures, the desperate dentist exchanged it with a sign maker for a placard reading “Painless Parker.”

Full page newspaper advertisement for a West Coast dental practice.

Full page newspaper advertisement for a West Coast dental practice.

Parker opened shop in a corner of the street, and talked about the horrors of tooth decay in order to attract customers. Parker promised that the extraction would be completely painless, and offered $5 if the patient was not satisfied. He made a solution of cocaine and water, which he called “hydrocaine,” to numb the pain. Surprisingly, the narcotic did its job, and soon Parker was making money as a traveling dentist, extracting teeth for 50 cents.

A few years later Parker and his family moved to New York, where he met William Beebe, a former employee of PT Barnum’s circus. Beebe advised Parker to take the task on the road, just as Barnum did, and accordingly Parker launched Parker Dental Circus, a traveling medicine show. He’ll start the show with some facts about oral hygiene, then invite a volunteer from the crowd to the stage. A puppet already fitted among the crowd would step in and Parker would pretend to remove a molar from the mouth of a fake volunteer, who would admit that the operation was painless. When an actual patient climbs onto his horse-drawn wagon for the procedure, a band of musicians begin playing their instruments at full loudness, allaying the patient’s screams.

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Parker was prosecuted several times for his false claims and lack of morals, which he fought in the courts. In 1930, the Dental Board of California told Parker that he could no longer call himself a “painless Parker,” and suspended his license for false advertising. So Parker legally changed his name from “Edgar” to “Painless”. His colleagues also hated him—the American Dental Association even called him a “threat to the dignity of the profession.”

Despite this, Parker’s business was flourishing. On one remarkable day, he claimed to have pulled out 357 teeth in a single day, which he wore on a necklace. He also hired assistants and set up a chain dentistry business. At his peak, Parker ran 28 West Coast dental offices, employed more than 70 dentists, and earned $3 million per year. Along with dental services in their clinics there is a range of dental products like mouthwash, toothpaste and powder for brushing at home.

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Despite being a huckster, Parker’s contribution to the dental world is undeniable. He believed in affordable healthcare and did not charge for the initial assessment. They gave out vouchers, did not allow patients to access credit, and educated the public on the importance of dental hygiene.

Dr. Amid Ismail, Dean of the Kornberg School of Dentistry, said, “Parker’s most undeniable legacy in dentistry is his contribution to the development of professional ethics in dentistry through his evil acts, slyness and relentless pursuit of profit. ” , Temple University.

Today, a portion of the exhibits at Temple University’s museum are dedicated to Painless Parker. There you can see the infamous tooth necklaces used by Parker and buckets full of teeth, as well as a selection of tools Parker took out throughout his lifetime.

A bucket full of extracted teeth at Temple University's museum.

A bucket full of extracted teeth at Temple University’s museum.

#Painless Parker – the most prodigious dentist,
New Brunswick Museum
#Was that really painless? painless parker, Cupertino News
#Painless Parker: Part Dentist, Part Showman, All American, BBC
# A Brief History of America’s Most Outrageous Dentists, Smithsonian Magazine
# Weird and wonderfully painless parkour, Periodontal Associates of Memphis

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