Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bonanza Opening Title Screen
The other night my husband and I were watching Bonanza on the Western Channel. In this particular show, Little Joe was being pursued by an escaped Bad Guy Mental Patient who heard voices in his head and believed himself to be the ultimate hunter.  After he happened upon Joe Cartwright in the middle of nowhere, he decided to play the game, man is the hardest animal to hunt, and I’m going to hunt you, Joe Cartwright. He gave Little Joe a four hour start.

Halfway through the show, the Bad Guy Mental Patient almost caught up with Little Joe. He was close enough to scream vile threats, which he did. The camera zoomed in on him until all we saw was his open mouth—tongue and throat framed by teeth and lips. At this dramatic moment, I should have been worrying about how Little Joe was going to escape. Instead I noticed silver colored-fillings in Bad Guy Mental Patient’s molars. Lots of them.

That’s when my Inner Editor (who has an opinion about everything and suffers from compulsive author editorial internal logorrhea*) sat up and said, “Really? What did dentists fill teeth with in the late 1860s? Would they have looked silver? Is this accurate? Did the producers think about this detail while they zoomed so in close that we could Bad Guy Mental Patient’s tonsils?”

So while the Bad Guy Mental Patient continued to chase Little Joe on the television screen, I began to search for information about dental fillings in the 1800s.

Beginning in the 1820’s, tin was used as a filling material. It was inexpensive to use. Most of the fillings made in the mouths of soldiers during the Civil War were made from tin.

In 1850 Dentists experimented with fillings made from aluminum and asbestos. Lead was abandoned late in the 19th century because scientists became aware of its harmful effects.

In 1800 gold was first used. Adhesive gold foil was introduced in the mid-1850s, but it was slow to grow in popularity because of lack of dental training and information.

Beginning in the 1850s, dentists began to use amalgam in fillings. Dental amalgam is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper. Amalgam is still used to fill teeth today. I have some in my mouth. (Debate is ongoing about whether or not the minute amounts of mercury in amalgam fillings is harmful.)

So, in conclusion, my Bad Guy Mental Patient could indeed have had a mouth full of silver looking fillings.

And in case you were wondering, yes, all’s well that ends well on Bonanza. Little Joe escaped to be traumatized another day, while the Bad Guy Mental Patient died of heart failure.

*Logorrhea is a real a mental condition characterized by excessive talking (incoherent and compulsive). Compulsive author editorial internal logorrhea is totally my invention.


  1. You caught my attention with Bonanza - I love that show! :) This was an interesting article! Thank you for the research and information. :) How fun to discover that Bad Guy Mental Patient could have had fillings like that, LOL!

    And of course Little Joe escaped! He had to live for another episode, just like he or Hoss or Adam (or, later, Candy) had to meet a new girl every episode, but the new girl had to go back East or die at the end of the episode. ;)


  2. Loved this article, Candice. Thanks for making me chuckle on this dreary morning, and for the great reminder of one of my favorite TV westerns!

  3. You made me laugh, getting caught up in dental fillings while watching TV. That is exactly something I would do (& have done).

  4. So this is the story of ancient dental fillings. I did not know. A few days ago i have got my dental fillings from a dental vacations company during my tour at Mexico.


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