What is a 'quack' when it refers to medicine? Read this article and find out!
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Druggists and Teeth Pullers

Today, both medical doctors and dentist rely on medications as one way to help their patients. Doctors and dentists depend on pharmacies to provide good reliable medications. For example, you're sick. You go to see a doctor and the doctor prescribes a medicine to make you feel better. You take the prescription to a pharmacy and give it to the pharmacist.

Taking medicine wasn't always like this. Pioneer families used to make homemade remedies from roots, bark and herbs. Druggists made their own patent medicines (sold without prescription).

Timothy Mason's Drugstore of Dubuque was the first drugstore in Iowa. In 1837 Mason advertised: "Drugs and Medicines-Paints-Oils-Glass/at reduced prices by .T. Mason—Supply of Howard's Tonic Mixture and Certain Cure for Ague and Fever." Drugs were also sold in general stores along with liquor, foods, building materials, glass and other home supplies.

Quack Medicines

Before 1880 anyone in Iowa who sold drugs could register as a pharmacist. No state licensing or education was required.

In the mid-1800s many doctors ran drugstores, wrote their own prescriptions, and "devised formulas for each individual case." A lot of patent and quack medicines were sold.

The pharmacy profession in Iowa changed after passage of the 1880 Pharmacy Law. Only registered pharmacists could retail, compound or dispense medicines or poisons for medicinal use.

Pharmacy Today

Great changes occurred during the beginning of the 20th century. New ways of making drugs were introduced. And federal laws were passed to stop the sale of useless quack medicines.

In Iowa the State Board of Pharmacy issued stricter educational and licensing requirements. Pharmacists had to pass state tests as well as earn a diploma from a college of pharmacy.

Today many new health care products line the shelves of most drugstores. Each year hundreds of new drug products are manufactured. Like other health care workers, pharmacists in hospitals and drugstores work to prepare these medicines that will help in the treatment and prevention of disease.

Early Dentists

Just as training for doctors and pharmacists has improved in Iowa, so has that of the dentist. Most early 19th century dentists were not educated in dentistry, but they could sure "pull teeth." Dentists in early Iowa learned their business by serving as assistants to older dentists. They swept offices, cleaned spittoons, polished dentures, mixed plaster and watched operations.

In 1863 the Iowa State Dental Society (now the Iowa Dental Association) was formed so that dentists could meet together and discuss new techniques and products. At one of the early meetings they talked about ways of reducing pain during dental surgery: salt ice water sprays, anesthesia, and electric currents.

In 1882 the State Dental Bill provided for a Board of Dental Examiners. They required all new dentists to have college training and pass state tests for a dental license.

As in other areas of health, the 20th century brought a new focus on prevention in dentistry. Studies found that fluoride was important to the prevention of tooth decay. Soon cities began to put fluoride into water supplies.

A visit to your dentist today will be unlike a visit to the dentist 100 years ago. Instead of having your teeth pulled out with scary looking forceps, you will probably get your teeth cleaned and flossed. Today's dentist will show you how to take better care of your teeth and prevent disease.

Adapted from original article in The Goldfinch 9, No.4 (April 1988). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa



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