Appalachian Medicine Heritage

Pulling Teeth In Appalachia

Tooth jumper jumping teeth to pull them

Worse than all the old cures mentioned in the toothache post was the process of pulling the aching tooth or jumping the tooth.

Jumping the tooth involved placing a chisel or other metal object at the base of the hurting tooth just under the gum line. While holding the chisel in place the tooth jumper took a hammer and gave it a good hard tap. If it was successful tap the tooth jumped out of it’s hole.

The process of jumping the tooth sounds so horrible it makes you wonder why anyone would even attempt the method. But if you’ve ever had a dentist pull a tooth that didn’t want to come out (I have) you can kinda see how difficult it would be to pull someone’s tooth that hadn’t had a shot of Novocaine to numb the pain. Maybe that’s where the jumping part came in after trying to pull a tooth that wouldn’t come out. Here is an excerpt on tooth jumping from John Parris in These Storied Mountains:

But them that really knowed how to tooth-jump could pop a tooth out of a feller’s head before you could wink an eye. It was just that quick. It had to be. If one lick didn’t jump the tooth out it was all-night-ice-’em. For if the tooth didn’t come out with that first lick a feller just went plumb crazy and had to be hog tied till the job was finished.

Just as there were folks known for tooth jumping, there were folks known as good tooth pullers. Patti commented on the toothache post: “Every settlement had a blacksmith because he was a very useful member. The blacksmith was also a dentist and he had only one cure for a toothache. He pulled out the tooth that hurt.”

Folks would travel miles to get their aching teeth pulled. Matthew Burns said his father is still the go to guy for pulling teeth in his neck of the woods. His tool of choice needle nose pliers.

While thinking of pulling or jumping teeth without numbing it, is hard to fathom I know if you had a severe toothache you’d eventually be willing for someone to help you know matter how bad it hurt.

When Pap was about 13 years old he had a toothache, a bad one that kept him up at night. One early morning just after dawn he decided to get up because of the pain. He quietly slipped out of the house and headed over the mountain to see his Grandpa and Grandma. As he reached their house the sun was coming up.  Pap’s Grandpa said the only way to fix the tooth was to pull it. He got a pair of pliers and tried to pull Pap’s tooth. Pap said the tooth just wouldn’t budge, but the pain was so bad he couldn’t stand it. They had an old sliver of mirror hanging outside where you could see to shave or comb your hair. Grandpa was afraid he’d hurt Pap if he pulled anymore so Pap decided he’d pull it himself. He got the pliers around the tooth while looking in the mirror. Pap pulled as hard as he could as long as could, which wasn’t long cause he passed out from the pain. His Grandpa and Grandma decided they didn’t care what it took they were going to get their grandson to the dentist and they did. The dentist pulled the tooth and that ended the pain.

Ever heard of tooth jumping?



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    September 20, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Yup, I know a few that still do it. Tooth Jumping is an art, and the guys I’ve seen do it, amazing. Saw a fellow pop a premolar out of a guys head and he didn’t even realize that it had already been done. If the guy knows what he’s doing, it’s as good as seeing a dentist, and a hell of a lot faster. But, this is a dying art, all the gents I know are in their late 60’s to early 70’s that can do it. Just no call for it anymore.

  • Reply
    April 14, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Oh my goodness, Tipper! I’ve never heard of tooth-jumping. But I’m an oral surgeon’s assistant, so I see teeth pulled all the time. I can’t imagine what people must have gone through…OUCH!

  • Reply
    October 7, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I have never heard of tooth jumpers. I can’t imagine someone doing that.I always dread going to the dentist, even now a days with all the modern technology.

  • Reply
    October 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    No, I have never heard of tooth-jumping, but know that Dad had his wisdom teeth out without any freezing when he was a young man. He said that he passed out from the pain of the first one.
    Interesting and I’m sure the tooth-jumpers were very skilled at their trade.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Never heard of tooth jumping…and never want to.
    I think our dental care is barbaric at best but jumping is beyond anything I can imagine!

  • Reply
    October 5, 2009 at 12:11 am

    I had a tooth drilled without Novacaine. For some reason it did not take and they went ahead anyway, after 4 shots of the stuff mind you! I will never forget that pain and your story made me happy at least it wasn’t a pull, but I bet I could take it. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Reply
    October 4, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    and I don’t like going to the dentist. I’m glad I never had to go through that.

  • Reply
    laoi gaul-williams
    October 4, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    oh my word but this post~brilliant as it is~gave me the shivers too. too be in that much pain and not go to a dentist!

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    October 4, 2009 at 11:21 am

    My father had told me stories of what it was like to live in the country where no dentist was around! Made me cringe as your story did, Tipper! Eventually, no more worries with dentures! 😉
    Btw, I’m sure your talented daughters were show stoppers! :))

  • Reply
    October 4, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Oh the memories of teeth that wouldn’t let go. Mine seem to have roots that are curved to better hold them in place. It is suffering of the highest order. Although the old methods sound barbaric, the tools on the tray in the dentist’s office will let you know not much progress has been made since the middle ages. These chromed tools of torture rival any the torturer could imagine. No amount of Novocaine can prepare you for the pain you are likely to suffer at the hands of even a modern dentist. Even the strongest of modern pain killers can’t adequately reach a tooth ache pain. Pappy

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    October 3, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    This story reminds me of the McGuire dental dynasty up in Sylva, NC. Dr. Daisy McGuire and her husband Dr. Wayne McGuire started practicing dentistry in Sylva in 1912 and 1908, respectively. They had three daughters, all of whom became dentists. One of the daughters even married another dentist, who was also named McGuire! I actually visited Dr. Daisy when I was a little guy, according to my Dad. Dr. Daisy was one of the very first women in modern dentistry. Dr. Wayne practiced dentistry for 70 years and Dr. Daisy practiced for 68 years. I don’t think either of them engaged in tooth jumping, though. I believe that there is still a McGuire practicing dentistry in Sylva.

  • Reply
    fishing guy
    October 3, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Tipper: Those kind of stories really make me glad I have a dentist that knows how to do the job. I had a toothache a little while back and it wasn’t even the tooth it was a gum infection. I wonder how many teeth were jumped by mistake.

  • Reply
    Pat Workman
    October 3, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    I knew of this process, Tipper, and about blacksmith’s pulling teeth– but I didn’t know the term ‘Tooth Jumper’. That is appropriately named. One part of the good old days I wouldn’t want to go back to.

  • Reply
    Jennifer in OR
    October 3, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    This post just gave me the shivers all over thinking of how *painful* this would be!

  • Reply
    October 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Gosh…I’m just glad I live in the here and now!!!!

  • Reply
    Amy - parkcitygirl
    October 3, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    I haven’t heard of tooth jumping before – sounds horrible! Always a great read – thanks Tipper 🙂

  • Reply
    October 3, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Never heard of it before but now I’m interested. I think I have some research to do. Great stories, I love when you tell about old stuff like this.

  • Reply
    October 3, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Tipper, I still have goose pimples running up and down my arms and visions of the tooth jumper , that story made me cringe, I could almost feel the pain while I was reading it . We did’nt live in the mts. so we ,when we had a bad ,rotten ,tooth , (all the sweets and R C’s and Moon Pies we ate ) we went to Clover ,S C, about 14 miles from Gastonia and there was a old denist on the second floor of this building and you had to climb or be dragged up this set of dark stairs (I can still see and smell it in my mind after all these years ) and when you went in ,it was a big waiting room and you got in line to go in and get a shot of novicane and then waited outside again till you got numb and the nurse would come over and pinch your cheek to see if you were ready for the pulling (that was all he did was pull) and it was just like a assembly line NEXT, and out you went , I can remember the price was $2.00 and no pain medicine , tooth pulling and ear aches are my worst memories of childhood , I think they would have had to drag me all the way to the tooth jumper , even typing it gives me the willys . ha ha ha . Malcolm from Thailand

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    October 3, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Good Lord, that sounds awful! No wonder people used to be so afraid of going to the dentist! (Not that it’s ever a piece of cake, but gosh, it HAS to be better now than that!)

  • Reply
    October 3, 2009 at 10:08 am

    No, I haven’t. What a terrible way to get a tooth out.
    I have had some bad experiences with my teeth.
    My Dad, when he was a teen, had a dentist try to pull a tooth while it wasn’t numb. My Dad cold cocked the dentist and went home with his tooth still entact. But a couple of weeks later he had to make the long trip back, because the tooth was hurting so bad.
    The dentist he had cold cocked had retired. Imagine that. The new, young dentist had Dad’s tooth pulled before he realized what happened.
    Because of that first dentist experience, I have watched my Dad suffer with tooth aches for days, only then to pull the tooth himself.

  • Leave a Reply