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Dentils: C’mon Old House, Show Us Your Pearly Whites!

Welcome to CIRCA School, in which Amanda uncovers the fascinating facts behind everyone’s favorite old house details. The dentists among us will get a good laugh at today’s lesson!
Welcome back from a long holiday break. School’s back in session! If all that eggnog didn’t mess with your memory, you’ll recall that last time we traveled back to the Middle Ages to look at the origins of half-timbering. Today, let’s go back even further to antiquity – over some 2,000 years ago – to chat about dentils!

dentils-circle-1 As the name suggests, a dentil is an architectural feature that looks JUST LIKE a tooth! Or you could say it’s one of a row of small rectangular blocks that sit at a building’s cornice (More fun to think of them as teeth though, isn’t it?) Dentils were popularized in Ancient Greece and later spread throughout the Roman Empire. You can even see them decorating more “modern” buildings during the Renaissance. What can I say? Those chompers got around!
In more recent times – say, you know, the past 300 years or so – dentils appeared on homes that took their design cues from their earlier classical counterparts. If you’re driving around a great old neighborhood you might find them, for example, on Georgian, Greek Revival, Second Empire or Queen Anne style homes. They pop up in several places, from grand entryways to roof and porch cornices.
Dentils aren’t limited to a house’s exterior; they can be found gracing mantels, doorways, and ceiling moldings too. A simple yet elegant feature that has clearly stood the test of time, inside and out!


Amanda is an historic preservationist living in New York City with a particular fondness for fixer-uppers. She can be spotted checking out quirky historic details here, there, and everywhere in her handmade dresses. Every time Amanda sees a cozy room with large windows and beautiful built-ins she can’t help but imagine her very own sewing nook with oldies music playing in the background.


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