There are some illnesses that have plagued humanity since time immemorial: leprosy, heart disease, cooties, groin rot, groin cooties, groinitis, etc. However, some of the most truly horrible and bizarre diseases reared their heads for one specific moment in history before vanishing just as strangely as they arrived, never to be seen again (we hope).
6Your Teeth Might Have Exploded In The 19th Century
In the 1800s, medical journals started recording instances of people's teeth straight-up exploding. To read the accounts, it's no wonder that Dr. King Schultz went into bounty hunting. Shooting bad guys must have seemed like a relaxing hobby compared to wondering if his patients' teeth were going to shrapnelize themselves into his face.
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"Yes, I filled cavities with gunpowder. Why do you ask?"
The first recorded case occurred in 1817 with a reverend who, after days of suffering untold agony from toothache, experienced: "... all at once a sharp crack, like a pistol shot, bursting his tooth to fragments, [which] gave him instant relief. At this moment he turned to his wife, and said, 'My pain is all gone.' He went to bed, and slept soundly all that day and most of the succeeding night; after which he was rational and well."
This was the template for every case of exploding tooth syndrome (as we're now calling it). Victims would suffer from a tremendous toothache, followed by their mouth detonating from the inside out like baby aliens were inside. In 1830, a Mrs. Letita D reported an aching tooth "terminating by bursting with report," while a dentist in 1871 reported an occurrence of ETS so violent that the patient was knocked to the floor and deafened. Several similar cases later, however, and the condition vanished, never to be seen again.
As did the patients.
According to a group of researchers, it's likely that ETS was caused by a reaction between hydrogen gas and the metals used in old-timey fillings. In those days, fillings were often made from any combination of lead, tin, and silver, and it's possible that these could have created a low-voltage electrochemical cell (a battery, basically). The hydrogen, meanwhile, could have been created by any part of the tooth cavity that was accidentally left over from the often-poor dental surgery of the time. If the filling created an electrical charge in the presence of hydrogen, a miniature explosion could have occurred, with the tooth providing a handy bomb-like casing. People were essentially walking around with big fat mouthfuls of little Hindenburgs waiting to go off, which they did with terrifying regularity.
5Chlorosis Exhausted Women (And Turned Them Green) In The 18th Century
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Doctors have a pretty bad track record as far as being able to correctly identify and treat any ailment specific to women. For example, 18th-Century physicians found themselves baffled by a new malady called chlorosis, which messed with the menstrual cycle and left young women withered and haggard, and turned them green. You can imagine why men were confused.
They were pretty confused about women regardless, but this was extra weird.
For over 200 years, chlorosis ravaged the young women of high society. Within days of contracting it, they'd fall into a melancholic malaise, rendering them unable to stand or stay awake. They'd also suffer from swollen joints, heart palpitations, "cessation of the menses" (their periods would stop), and -- according to reports of the time -- green goddamned skin. Oddly, it was a classist disease. It only hit women of the upper crust, and rarely, if ever, affected members of the working classes.
True to the medical science of the time, doctors blamed the disease on their patients not getting enough dong. This became the leading diagnosis after doctors noticed that chlorosis stopped menstruation. You see, menstrual blood was considered the female equivalent of semen. It stood to reason that the blockage was caused by chastity -- hence chlorosis was nicknamed "the virgin's disease."
Just wait till you hear their prescription for dry mouth.
The real cause turned out to be something a lot less interesting than non-horndoggedness: They were suffering from a form of anemia caused by their terrible diets, a malady that was quickly remedied by regular iron supplements. Interestingly, this was suggested at the start of the outbreak, but it took two centuries for someone to give the idea serious merit. That's like the worst episode of House ever.