Life of Pierre Fauchard

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Best known for his book, Le chirurgien dentiste or The Surgeon Dentist published in 1728, Pierre Fauchard (1678 – 1761) was a French physician who rose to fame for his contributions to dentistry. So great were his contributions to the field of dentistry that he was also known as the ''father of modern dentistry''.

Pierre Fauchard was the first person to make some significant advances in dentistry which are recorded in his book, like discovering the signs and symptoms of oral pathology, operating on teeth to remove decay, treating pyorrhea or periodontal disease, techniques for the restoration of teeth, the usage of orthodontia, and replacing and transplanting teeth. This book has the status of being the first complete scientific treatise on dentistry.

Born of a modest background, in a small town called Brittany, Fauchard joined the Navy at the tender age of fifteen, something which his family did not appreciate. While in the Navy, he met a surgeon who would go on to influence him greatly, namely Alexander Poteleret, who was a specialist in oral diseases. While working with Poteleret, Fauchard discovered that men working in the navy often suffered from scurvy and other dental ailments. Under Poteleret's guidance, he started to read and investigate how people before him had dealt with oral diseases. He was later influenced by Poteleret to follow his career choice of becoming a battle medic.

On Fauchard's discharge from the navy, he decided to set up base in Angers and he practiced medicine at the local university hospital. It was at Angers that he developed some of the pioneering fundamentals of modern dentistry. He laid down the basic principles of oral and maxillofacial surgery for the first time. He was known as the "Chirurgien Dentiste" or the ''Surgeon Dentist'', something which dentists were usually not called as dentistry in those days was more about taking out teeth than replacing them.

When Fauchard started working, he didn't even have the basic implements for a dentists work, and he had to improvise from jeweler's tools, watchmaker's tools, and even implements from barbers. Due to his improvisational abilities and excellent surgical skills, he was regarded highly by his colleagues. He was also amongst the first to start using the concept of dental fillings for treating cavities, and figured out that sugar-based acids were responsible for decaying teeth. He also discovered that gum tumors were caused by these acids. Another of Fauchards pioneering inventions was to start using dental prosthetics. He came up with many ways to substitute teeth that had fallen out. He used carved ivory and bone to make false teeth, which were put in place by fixing them to existing teeth using gold wire and pivots. He also made use of the first braces, which were made from gold, when he discovered that teeth could be made to realign themselves by applying suitable pressure using wires. He used silk threads to fasten the braces.

Pierre Fauchards career reached its pinnacle from 1716 to 1718, and during this time, he interacted with many leading physicians, sharing ideas and knowledge. To do so he often traveled, and stayed away from home for long periods, teaching and studying. After 1718, he moved to Paris, to continue his practice. While he was practicing in Paris and teaching as well, he found that there was a severe lack of required textbooks on dentistry and that was hampering other doctors as well as the teachers and students. Thus, he took the initiative and set about writing an encyclopedic treatise on professional dentistry, the material for which he drew from his personal experiences and knowledge.

Pierre Fauchard worked hard for many months researching and gathering medical books, and interviewing dentists wherever he went. He also used his personal diaries from his Angers days and he finished writing the book at the age of 45 in 1723. The manuscript ran into two volumes and was called ''Le Chirurgien Dentiste'' an approximate translation of which would be ''The Surgical Dentist''. The manuscript was reviewed thoroughly and was published in 1728. It was extremely popular in the European medical fraternity and a subsequent enlarged edition was released in 1746 with a German translation in 1773. The book was considered by most people in the European medical community to be of extraordinary value and very advanced in content and technique as it laid out the principles of scientific dentistry for the first time.

Using urine for curing

The books by Pierre Fauchard had illustrations and engravings of the numerous instruments he invented for dentistry. These inventions, like the obturator and the dentist's drill (which he made by twisting catgut around a cylinder) allowed him to make the path breaking advances in dentistry and maxillofacial surgery that he did. He also advocated on the usage of olive oil as a base for medication containing cloves as a treatment for pulpitis. Another of Fauchards ideas that caused a lot of uproar was that he recommended the application of human urine as a method of treating the onset of dental caries in the earlier stages. However, science has now enabled us to discover that the beneficial property of urine was due to the presence of ammonia in it and ammonia, if required may be directly administered these days, without having to resort to the application of urine.


Fauchard, with his tremendous effort and dedication was able to influence a lot of people during the early 18th century and inspired many who grew to become leading physicians in their own right. Robert Bunon was one of them, who spent much of his life researching enamel hypoplasia. Bourdet, who was another very well known dentist is supposed to have derived his ideas from Pierre Fauchard's methods of using dental prosthesis to correct dental alignment. He also gave us new methods of making amalgams and pioneered the method of doing gingivectomy on requirement. So great was Fauchard's achievements that a famous American dentist, Chapin Harris, said, "considering the circumstances and limitations of his time, he will always be remembered as a pioneer and founder of modern dentistry''.
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