French physician Pierre Fauchard is credited as the “father of modern dentistry.” During his lifetime, he made major discoveries and wrote a detailed book that scientifically described the dental profession. Though he lived when the formal practice of dentistry was just beginning, his contributions are considered significant. Were it not for Dr. Fauchard, dental care would not be so advanced.
Fauchard Develops Interest in Dentistry
Fauchard was born in northern France in 1678 and entered the French Royal Navy at age 15. This exposed him to various types of mouth diseases, including those resulting from scurvy. While in the Navy, he met surgeon major Alexander Poteleret, who devoted much time to studying tooth and mouth diseases. Major Poteleret encouraged a young Fauchard to read and investigate what healing arts professionals had discovered, with the intention of disseminating this knowledge to the sailors.
As a protégé of Poteleret, Fauchard eventually became a combat medic. After leaving the Navy, he practiced medicine at University of Angers Hospital in France. This is where he conducted much of the work he is known for, including oral and maxillofacial surgery. He referred to himself as a surgical dentist, a rare designation because most 17th century dentists focused on extraction, not treatment,of decayed teeth.
Colleagues considered Fauchard a skilled surgeon and the doctor adapted tools from jewelers, watchmakers, and barbers for use in dentistry. Dr. Fauchard is credited with using dental fillings to treat cavities after discovering that acids derived from sugar caused tooth decay. The doctor also pioneered the dental prosthetic, discovering several ways to replace a lost tooth. His recommendations included carved bone or ivory secured in place by thread or wire pivots attached to remaining teeth.
Dr. Fauchard also introduced the concept of dental braces to correct tooth positioning. Made from gold, the braces were fastened to teeth with silk or linen threads. The doctor traveled throughout France from 1716 to 1718, sharing his findings with fellow surgeons. In 1718, he moved to Paris and began writing what became The Surgical Dentist, a textbook considered the foundation of modern dentistry.
In his book, Dr. Fauchard presented many ideas new to dentistry and included images of various oral surgery instruments including the dental drill. Dr. Fauchard cautioned others against dental charlatans and influenced many young medical practitioners of the time. Approximately 150 years after his book was published, a gathering of dental professionals credited him with creating a “new era” in the dental profession.