The Frenchman Who Put Sugar In His Sights
Pierre Fauchard, a French physician, literally wrote the book on modern dentistry.
In the 1700’s, dentistry was very different from what we know now. People believed tooth pain and dental problems were caused by things like worms or evil spirits, which lead to some very strange treatments. It was in 1728 when Fauchard published The Surgeon Dentist and tried to set things straight.
It was during his stint in the French navy where he first latched onto an interest in medicine, noticing that sailors developed terrible dental problems, like scurvy. A navy doctor encouraged Fauchard to continue reading and researching, and it led to a career in medicine. When Fauchard moved to Paris in 1718, he realized there were few books on dentistry available for doctors, and he decided to write one. He spoke with other doctors and compiled his own experiences to finally write The Surgeon Dentist.
The book was filled with many illustrations and helpful instruction, but a few of the ideas that Fauchard suggested are what were revolutionary then and common today. For example, he stated that the cause for tooth decay was sugar and that people should limit how much they ate. He described the idea of using fillings for dental cavities, and suggested other doctors use amalgams of lead, tin, or even gold. He advocated professional teeth cleanings by a dentist. He even went as far as describing how the dental office should work, with the idea of a chair that would tip back and a light above, the dentist sitting behind. He also discussed how the dentist should work to make the patient calm.
None of this sounds terribly unusual, does it?
It’s strange to see what Fauchard introduced; much of it is so ingrained in our concept of what a dentist does that we don’t see how groundbreaking his ideas were. Considering all of the strange medical practices (and often times medical charlatans) from the 1700’s, it is rather amazing to consider what Fauchard accomplished with his book.
Today you can visit several museums dedicated to Pierre Fauchard; one in Paris, and several in Nevada.