A denture set with real human teeth dating from around 1820. It is held by the dental museum near Colditz in Germany
The plundering of European battlefields for the teeth of fallen soldiers to make dentures was a 'major phenomenon' until as late as the 1830s, a new study has said.

Soldiers' front teeth were collected from war dead for use by dentists following Napoleonic-era battles, including at Leipzig and the 1815 Battle of Waterloo.

They were also likely taken from morgues, cemeteries and execution sites in Britain, the paper by respected German archaeologist Arne Homann said.

Although the phenomenon of 'Waterloo teeth' has been well-known for decades, Mr Homann's study is the most comprehensive investigation that has ever taken place into the subject.

He draws from dozens of sources to reveal the extent of the gruesome practice, but also demonstrates how the mention of the Battle of Waterloo in the sale of dental implants was an effective marketing tool that often masked more mundane origins of re-purposed human teeth.

Mr Homann's paper features in a landmark new academic book that details the industrial exploitation of human remains in the 18th and 19th centuries.

MailOnline revealed in 2022 how the bones of the fallen at Waterloo - where the Duke of Wellington led a triumph over the forces of France's Napoleon Bonaparte - were ground down and used in the sugar industry or to make fertiliser.

The editors of the new book, Belgian expert Professor Bernard Wilkin and German historian Robin Schäfer, were intimately involved in the previous research.

Mr Schäfer told MailOnline: 'What Arne has written is the most definitive investigation that has been carried out on the subject so far.

'The most important thing is that it was a worldwide phenomenon.

'It was not limited to Waterloo. It had happened long before it, as well as after it, and on a wider scale than most people thought.'

The dentures were needed at a time when oral health was poorly understood and tooth decay was being made dramatically worse by high consumption of sugary foods from the 18th century onwards.

Affordable dentures, which were made from porcelain, started to become available from around 1800.

Their take-up increased from the 1840s onwards. Until then, real human teeth and other materials - such as ivory - were used.

However, it was front teeth that were largely used because they were so much easier to remove intact from corpses and skeletons.

It meant that back teeth would would be made from ivory or another material.

Mr Homann, who is the the director of the Schloss Salder Municipal Museum in Salzgitter, Germany, quoted from a series of previously forgotten sources in his new research.

In 1781, London 'surgeon dentist' Paul Eurialus Jullion was charging two pounds and two shillings for 'fitting and fixing a human tooth'.

Fitting a full row of human teeth would cost a customer 31 pounds and 10 shillings, whilst a complete set was worth a staggering £73 - the equivalent to around four years' worth of wages for an unskilled labourer.

Mr Homann writes: 'In 18th and early 19th century Great Britain, most of the raw material for denture making was supplied by "resurrectionists", or "body snatchers" who traded in all kinds of human remains - among them whole bodies that were sold to medical practitioners, anatomists and universities or medical schools for dissection.

'Teeth, next of those extracted from still very much alive, but poor, donors, usually came from burial grounds, morgues or execution sites.'

The earliest known accounts about the harvesting of teeth from dead soldiers refer to the aftermath of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, where Napoleon's forces were defeated by a coalition that included troops from Russia, Austria and Prussia, as well as Britain.

One German account, from 1815, reads: 'Among all these loot-seekers, the most peculiar were those who broke open the jaws of the dead and tore out the most beautiful and whitest teeth, in order to subsequently sell them for implantation.

'The author heard that such teeth, which are seldom to be had, and in their place one must always make do with calves' teeth, are very dearly paid for.'

Three years later, university student Karl Ludwig Sand - who was infamously executed for the murder of dramatist August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue in 1820 - visited the Leipzig battlefield.

He recalled shortly afterwards: 'When we asked about the graves of our brothers, some peasants thought we were tooth-breakers who would break out the nice teeth of the skulls of the dead to implant them again in the city and stated that we would not find anything, because too many had already been there.'

A third retrospective account from 1866 was from a German surgeon.

Remembering an episode from his youth, he told how one classmate had 'very beautiful' front teeth that had been 'pulled out of dead Cossacks after the battle of Leipzig and had been inserted into his mouth.'

The practice was also prevalent following the Battle of Waterloo, where British forces led by the Duke of Wellington helped to vanquish Napoleon's forces once again.

British diarist Henry Crabb Robinson recounted a visit to the dentist in 1816. He told how the dentist 'assured' him that the 'natural tooth' he installed 'came from Waterloo, and promised me it should outlast twelve artificial teeth.'

At the time, Robinson had only just returned from a visit to Waterloo.

By the 1820s, knowledge of the practice of digging up of battlefield graves for teeth was widespread.

In 1824, German dentistry academic Karl Joseph Ringelmann wrote: The only thing that must be done is to use the teeth of young, healthy and violently perished subjects, but not of subjects who have died of any disease.

'On the battlefields many corpses are robbed of their teeth for this purpose, and the trade in them is not unknown.'

A decade after the Battle of Waterloo, American inventor Zachariah Allen visited Waterloo and afterwards noted how he was offered freshly pulled teeth from a skeleton discovered during the construction of the Lion's Mound memorial.

He said: 'While I was standing near the labourers, who were engaged in excavating the earth to be conveyed in carts to the top of the mound, one of the workmen turned up a human skeleton with his shovel.

'He began diligently to extract the teeth, and immediately brought me a handful of them for sale.

'The guide observed to me that whilst the teeth were fresh and in good order, they formed a considerable article of trade to supply the English and French dentists.'

Mr Homann adds: 'Human teeth from dead soldiers on European battlefields for the purposes of dentistry seems to have been a major phenomenon of the later Napoleonic Wars of 1813-1815 and the decades up to the 1830s.

'It may have happened earlier, but the lack of sources makes it impossible to date it with any certainty.'

However, he also cast doubt on the authenticity of many of the claims about 'Waterloo teeth'.

Branding it 'marketing' that traded off patriotism surrounding Britain's role in the victory at Waterloo, he says it was 'by no means a reliable certificate of origin.'

'Instead, the objects of trade, at least as far as the British market was concerned, were much more likely to have come from your very ordinary British neighbourhood cemetery, mortuary or execution site,' he writes.

The use of human teeth for dentures ultimately declined when the manufacture of artificial teeth from porcelain became more widely available from the 1840s onwards.

Today, dentures are typically made from acrylic, nylon or metal.

Bones of Contention: The Industrial Exploitation of Human Bones in the Modern Age, edited by Bernard Wilkin and Robin Schäfer, is published next month by the Belgian State Archives.