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A dentist discovers a machine that allows her to travel back in time and go to Europe in 1500 AD. The machine allows her to go back in time only once (and never to return). These are harsh conditions, of course, but our dentist is a perfectly altruistic person that only cares about the greatest good she can do. She figures that, while there are many other professionals with the same medical knowledge and skills in her current time (= 2017 AD), in 1500 her knowledge and thus her potential to do good would be exceedingly greater. Or would it?

There is only one problem. Going back in time she can take nothing with her: no medication (pain killers, anaesthetics), no tools (dental drills, dental forceps, headlight, ...) etc. Only the knowledge and skills she has acquired in modern times remain.

Despite these difficulties, our altruistic dentist is determined to go back and help as many people as best as she can. Only one question remains (for you to solve): How is she going to do it?


Please assume that our dentist is a bit myopic and does not think or care about unintended consequences her actions will have in the long-run (so no time traveller's paradox or anything related). Her only metric is: How she can relieve as many people as possible from their pain and improve their (dental) health.

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  • $\begingroup$ Heck she could go to LA. Do more dentistry good in a month than in a lifetime in 1500. $\endgroup$ – Willk Mar 29 '17 at 22:07
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She needs to introduce hygiene to the medical profession before it becomes institutionalized.

Perhaps she could become a housekeeper for a leading barber/surgeon. As part of her household duties she insists on sterilizing his tools, which he doesn't object to because she lays them neatly on a tray and assists him in a very organized fashion which also impresses his patients. She has some strange house rules about cleaning the hands, but again she is so efficient and flattering that he concedes to these minor demands. She is also very attractive and has the most perfect teeth of any person he has ever met, so he falls in love with her and is willing to accept some odd quirks.

To the mothers and wives of the patients, our Dentist secretly gives advice on how to keep the wounds clean and care for the healing with herbs and boiled water, tinctures and ointments (who knows, maybe this becomes a side business and she is silent-partners with an apothecary). After a decade or two the barber-surgeon is so successful everyone is talking about it, and the King takes notice.

Let's say that King is Henry VIII, who decides to organize all the barber-surgeons into a single guild. This actually happened in 1540.

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Since our Barber-Surgeon is so famous and successful he is designated the head of the guild. Naturally he brings his lovely wife (or possibly devoted housekeeper if she is so inclined) and she introduces the strange ideas of hand washing and hygiene to the training. Those who follow the strict rules have patients who heal better, and after a decade of professional resistance many doctors and patients accept there must be some "common sense" in hygiene, and the concept eventually spills over into other professions and sciences.

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    $\begingroup$ The word is asepsis. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 30 '17 at 11:51
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She's a woman, very little people in power are going to listen to her. What strange manner she has!

Best option is to find the (to be) most influential doctor of that time, find a way to marry him (before he gets famous), and give him the ideas that will help the most.

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Her best options are to do a whole lot of study and research into history, herbs and natural medicines, religion, and the steps science took.

Once she has completed her studies, she should plan on posing as a religious holy woman, depending on which part of Europe she shows up in, perhaps a Christian nun of some sort. That might maximize her survival chances.

Posing as a person of science or being the shadow behind a male of science would be more risky, considering what religions did or attempted to do to scientists during that time period.

Also, if her innovations took hold and actually caught on... knowledge is power, power is money and/or control, and therefore power belongs in the hands of those who are already rich and/or powerful (at least according to them). This would likely result in a struggle to control the source of these innovations, which would end either with someone controlling it for power and profit, or killing the goose that laid the golden eggs so that no one else can have it.

She could also go the route of attempting to gain power for herself so that she can defend herself with an army or something similar.

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I am not convinced that medicine is the first thing she should do. Prior to heading back, she should learn something that will be very, very financially advantageous (maybe learn how to implement the Bessemer process to create steel), collect up a pile of gold/gems (otherwise she'll be poor, sound strange, and look bizarre), and start off by building a financial empire. She needs to get herself into a position where people believing her seemingly crackpot ideas is not necessary for their implementation.

Once she's become a titan of industry, she has the power and influence to begin to implement changes in the lives of her workforce, hoping that they will become accepted. The easy things to bring back medically are knowledge of antibiotics (penicillin is easy to get) and sterilization (lye is also easy to get). By forcing her employees to bath, wash their hands, and providing basic antibiotics she could start a movement once people see the difference it makes.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, she should invest in creating schools and the promulgation of the printing press. She could introduce the concept of publication ~400 years before it actually came about. This, if sustained, would benefit humanity immensely across the rest of history.

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