Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Appalachian Medicine

Tooth Jumper – Tooth Puller

Tooth jumper jumping teeth to pull them

tooth jumper, tooth puller noun An untrained dentist who uses a hammer and a nail to extract or cause a tooth to jump out. Cf tooth dentist.
1961 Seeman Arms of Mt 35 Imagine going to a mountain “tooth-jumper,” who armed with hammer and nail and kept a pair of home-forged pliers handy! 1972 Cooper NC Mt Folklore 15 The tooth-puller and the tooth-jumper were known as Tooth Doctors.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


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 a 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. Here’s 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.

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


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  • Reply
    July 27, 2016 at 5:32 am

    I remember the first Dentist I was carried to, he was an awnry cuss, he would light a cigarette lay it on the table next to him and go to work on you. Now, try to keep your mouth open, breathing in his cigarette smoke and not gag… They say he also shod horses and I believe it…But he’d let you pick out a toy for your trouble, like that was gonna help…

  • Reply
    July 26, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    My dad always joked about being this kind of dentist to us!

  • Reply
    July 26, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    …hmm… sounds like an “Army dentist”…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 26, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    By the way, the little metal aspirin box looking thing in the picture that says “Wynoids” on it has nothing to do with teeth. They are for pain too but in a different part of the body. The “oids” part of the name is a clue to its use.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 26, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I have heard jumping called bumping. Same method with a toned down name “Oh, I’m not going to hit it with this hammer, I’m just gonna bump it a little bit.
    The first dentist I saw was in elementary school. A dentist would come to Almond School and set up an office in the teachers lounge. Then he and his assistant would go from classroom to classroom and check everybody’s teeth. If he found any cavities or teeth that needed to come out he would fix them for free. I suppose he would send a note home to get permission to do his deed. He never found a cavity in my mouth. In fact one year he patted me on the head and said “Here is a kid that visits his dentist regularly.” I never said anything but I was thinking “Yeah, ever year when you show up.”
    I remember walking down the hall by the makeshift dentist’s office. I could hear a hissing/grinding noise coming from in there and see kids coming out with cotton stuffed in their mouth. I could only imagine the horrors that went on inside. Judging by the reports of the victims it was nothing short of a torture chamber.
    I would guess that roughly half the kids had to get the treatment. A few didn’t participate because they had their own dentist. For the rest it was the only dental care we had ever received. I don’t know who paid for the services if anybody. Maybe the dentist was an intern practicing on a captive herd of Guinea Pigs. Maybe he just enjoyed seeing little kids squirm. Hopefully he was a benevolent individual who had managed to gain success and was returning something to the community. Yeah, lets go with last choice.

    • Reply
      Bo Curtis
      August 21, 2021 at 9:44 am

      Hello Ed,

      My mother’s family grew up in Almond, my mother was in the last graduating class in 1944. My mom was Fanny Lou Davis, parents were Pearl and Sam Davis. Would like to hear from you. Bo Curtis 865/850-8812

  • Reply
    July 26, 2016 at 11:46 am

    – some folks, like my husband and my mother, have/had good strong teeth – very few cavities or problems with their teeth.
    – other folks, like my Dad and me, have very weak teeth. Dad got dentures early on; I have caps on all but one of my molars. We both have small mouths and small teeth that make dentists cringe if they have to work in the back recesses. We got our first dentist in our town when I was in third grade. I think he questioned his choice of towns after working in my Dad’s and my mouths.
    – I started out brushing with soda and salt and remember the first toothpaste as gritty and gummy but liked it when the mint flavor came out. (“Fancy” toothpaste didn’t make it to our part of the world as quick as it did to my northern cousins.)
    – I recall my baby teeth being quite stubborn – Dad tied a string to one, sat me in my mother’s lap, tied the other to the door knob of an open door and slammed the door – most times a tooth came out; but one time he had to get the pliers – I can still feel it! -that one root hadn’t even begun to dissolve!
    – In the late 60’s we walked into the home of my future sister-in-law’s husband’s parent’s house. The mister was sitting on the couch with a bottle of vodka in one hand, a bloody tea towel in the other, a pair of pliers and two molars on the end table, and a mad as a wet hen missus reaming him out for ruining her bridge tea towels and messing up her couch and rug. After briefly considering trying to get him to go to the emergency room for antibiotics we backed out and left the two of them to settle things which probably meant he passed out where he was and she continued her tirade until she was worn out.

  • Reply
    July 26, 2016 at 11:34 am

    A long time ago, before I got interested in girls, I use to get my hair cut for $.50 cents at Lorie Holloway’s. One time I was there and I don’t think I was in my teen’s yet, but after she cut my hair, some drunks came in and they wanted their hair cut too. These guys was tough as nails, and they had been drinking moonshine. Anyway, when the first one got his hair cut, he complained about his jaw teeth hurting. One of his friends jumped up claiming he was a dentist, took a pair of old rusty plyers and pulled that sucker. The guy told him to take a look at the other side and he pulled that one too. When the so called dentist guy asked him if there was anymore. the fellow that got the haircut said “no, I think you got ’em.” I turned my head cause he was bleeding like a stuck hog. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    July 26, 2016 at 9:33 am

    This gruesome account of the “Tooth Doctor” is the lesser of two evils: Whether to be plaqued by a constantly aching tooth, or to be brave and get it popped out in this seemingly inhumane way? Many brave ones chose the “tooth doctor” approach of popping out the ailing tooth. But what if the wrong tooth was popped out? Oh! oh!

  • Reply
    July 26, 2016 at 9:12 am

    I will share this post with my nieces who work in dentist offices. It just might put the patients at ease to know how lucky we are to have modern day dental instruments, technology and medicine. It’s no wonder folks used to drink moonshine before having a tooth removed. One reason would be for courage, while another would be to fight off infection caused by the tools.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 26, 2016 at 8:23 am

    Your post reminds me of James Herriot, the Yorkshire vet of the “All Things ….series from the 1970’s. He tells the story of going to the dentist when he was in the Royal Air Force. What started out as a tooth pulling became a tooth jumping. He remarked to the ‘dentist’ that he had done the same many times, —– on horses.
    But, as I’ve heard my Dad say many times, one can do what they have to, as grim as it may be.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 26, 2016 at 8:18 am

    My sentiments exactly with your last paragraph of today’s post!
    I had to laugh when I read the words tooth doctors in the definition from Smoky Mountain English!
    I am 75 1/2 and I was barely out of high school 17 when I went to work for a dentist just setting up his practice. I helped him set things up, unpack instruments and learning the trade all at the same time!
    Word got out and he was hoping for a few referrals from other busy dentists in town. Opening day came! After seeing a relative or two early in the morning, the rest of the day didn’t look to promising.
    That is, until nearly closing time. In walks a fellow, with a large cloth held to the side of his head. I swear he “reeked” of something and the pain he was feeling was apparent from the look on his face. When I did my receptionist approach, I barely got the words “may I help you” when he shouted, “I’ve got to see the “tooth doctor”! He was pitiful, the dentist did what he could, packed to tooth with a temp pain reliever, gave him some antibiotics and told his wife to bring him back “sober” the next morning since it was obvious he had been drinking to ease the pain.
    The next day, he looked and smelled a little better and sober. The tooth was removed to his delight.
    That afternoon a local dentist called and asked if we had got the drunk he referred and laughed!
    Well, the joke was on him. The man in pain became one of our best patients getting all his teeth restored, along with all his children and family. He spread the word about how good his new
    “Tooth Doctor” had been to him!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Ken, when I listed the fees directed by the dentist just starting out on that fateful day; to remove a tooth was only a fee of $3.00. To clean teeth, done back then by the dentist (no hygienist), was only a $5.00 fee! Times have really changed!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 26, 2016 at 7:04 am

    Oh no Tip, you know I’m going to the dentist today! I’ve always dreaded the dentist. When I was small my teeth were not strong so I made frequent trips to the dentist. It’s not so bad now but their are still shades of dread accompanying each visit.

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