Barbers became a versatile group in the Middle Ages and in later centuries. In addition to shaving beards and cutting hair, they lanced abscesses, did bloodletting, gave enemas and extracted teeth.

Some of these barbers liked working on teeth and other ailments so much that they became barber-surgeons. To advertise their services of bloodletting, they displayed buckets of fresh blood in their windows. When the blood congealed, it was poured into the street, where it spoiled. In later centuries, instead of using real blood, red (symbolizing blood) and white poles were displayed in front of barber-surgeon shops to let people know that they did bloodletting.

Reprinted with permission from "Toothworms and Spider Juice: An Illustrated History of Dentistry" - Loretta Frances Ichord, Millerbrook Press.

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