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Civil War medicine: mercury and tooth-pulling barbers

A sign outside the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in 2010. (Flickr / ShashiBellamkonda / “National Museum of Civil War Medicine” / CC BY 2.0 / cropped and resized)

A sign outside the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in 2010. (Flickr / ShashiBellamkonda / “National Museum of Civil War Medicine” / CC BY 2.0 / cropped and resized)

FREDERICK — The National Museum of Civil War Medicine is highlighting some cringe-inducing practices at its annual conference in Frederick.

The event begins Friday and runs through Sunday.

It opens with a presentation on medical uses of mercury, now known to be a neurotoxin. Mercury was used for centuries to treat syphilis. It was also prescribed during the Civil War era for digestive disorders.

A presentation on Civil War-era dentistry shows that dental care did not become a distinct profession until the 19th century. Until then, tooth extractions were often performed by barbers.

The event concludes Sunday with a lecture about traumatic brain injury in Civil War veterans.