Hoaxes and Pranks

Horrendous Fraud or Major Dentistry Breakthrough? The Curious Case of the Gold-Toothed Boy

When Dr. Jakob Horst heard the reports of the 7-year-old boy with the gold tooth, he wasted no time getting there to investigate.

The year was 1593. In the village of Weigelsdorf (today Ostrowiec), a community in Silesia, at the southwestern border of today’s Poland, a boy by the name of Christoph Müller attracted the attention of people throughout the country because of his naturally-occurring gold tooth. Dr. Horst, a professor of medicine at Julius University in Helmstædt, was the first man of science to arrive on the scene.

As he examined the boy, he was astonished. Using a touchstone to evaluate the tooth, Dr. Horst concluded that it was, indeed, gold — albeit not of the highest quality. Convinced that this was no hoax, Dr. Horst declared the phenomenon to be real. He promptly recorded his findings in a 145-page treatise entitled De aureo dente maxillari pueri Silesii (Of the Golden Tooth of the Boy from Silesia).

What could explain this unprecedented phenomenon? Horst determined that it was all in the stars — or planets, more precisely. He concluded that Christoph’s birth on December 22, 1586, coincided with the winter solstice, the sun being in conjunction with Mars, Saturn, and Venus in the sign of Aries. All of these factors contributed to an amount of heat sufficient to transform the bone in Christoph’s mouth into gold.

Dr. Horst had some non-medical conclusions about the tooth, as well. He determined that Christoph’s golden bite signaled the end of the Turkish expansion of the Ottoman Empire and that Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II would usher in a period of peace that would last for thousands of years, but he would first have to overcome sinister events that would threaten to crush this glorious future.

Nearly 1,000 km away, another physician, Martin Ruland, from Lauingen, and John Ingolstetter from Nüremberg, the pro-rector of the Paedagogium at Amberg, studied Horst’s findings and came to a different conclusion. Ruland tried to explain it by natural causes. Ingolstetter was more inclined to agree with Horst that it was a supernatural occurrence.

Across the English Channel, a Scotsman by the name of Duncan Liddell was unconvinced and said that the golden tooth was a man-made gold crown or shell crown. He published his conclusions in a treatise entitled Tractatus de dente aureo pueri Silesiani. He not only challenged Horst’s medical conclusions but also mocked him for his skills in astronomy. He noted that if the sun had, indeed been in the sign of Aries in December, rather than March when it typically appears, that would have been of even greater significance than if the boy’s entire body were made of gold.

Eventually, time and facts were on the side of the Scotsman. Wear and tear from chewing eventually caused the gold in Christoph’s mouth to wear down, exposing the tooth beneath. Although he tried to hide this, it all came to light when an enraged man stabbed Christoph in the cheek. As doctors tended to the injury they confirmed that Christoph’s tooth had been a clever hoax; it had merely been covered with a thin layer of gold.

The man who performed the work on Christoph fled, leaving the boy to be incarcerated as punishment for his crime. Had he stuck around, he undoubtedly would have been arrested as well, but at least his name would have been recorded. Despite the fraud that was perpetrated, it is the first recorded case of creating a crown for a tooth — a dental practice that would survive for at least 400 years.


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