The Friday Fillip

I’m English, and so teeth have always been a problem. Which is why, perhaps, the dentists’ mantra has stuck in my head since I first heard it many, many cavities ago:

[Product X will help you] when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care. ((And it’s still a byword: see the Canadian Dental Association Seal of Recognition page.))

Of course, that’s what advertising is meant to do: stick things into your head that wouldn’t otherwise find a footing there, so to speak. So I thought it might be amusing to take a look at what advertising about dental health and products has been like over the last century, which we can do thanks to one of Duke University Libraries’ Digital Collections called Ad*Access. This features images of print ads from Canadian and U.S. sources ranging back to 1911 and over five “product categories”: beauty and hygiene, radio, television, transportation and WWII propaganda. Within the beauty and hygiene catagory there’s a taxonomy I won’t trouble you with here, except to say that I picked dental supplies to talk about here.

Let me simply give you a sampling by picking an ad from every decade between 1911 and 1955, the end date of the collection. Clicking on the dates below will bring up the image as an overlay, which you can dismiss by clicking the image.

1911 1918 1925 1937 1947 1954

But maybe teeth aren’t your thing. It happens. In which case you might like to wander through WWII propaganda — or any of the other categories — to see how things have and have not changed in advertising.

Now open wide. If you could just tilt your head a bit to the side. There. Wider please… This may pinch a little.


  1. This is a fascinating collection, and great to see from my alma mater!