Nouveaux éléments D'odontologie – 1754 and 1782

Henry Louis de Lécluse


Henry Louis de Lécluse (1711- 1792)

Henry Louis de Lécluse was a French dentist, actor, poet and entrepreneur. He was also known under various other names, Fleury, Nicolas and Louis de Tilloy. His name is spelled in three different ways: Lécluze, L’Ecluse or Lécluse. Prior to becoming a practicing dentist, Lécluse was an actor at l’Opera Comique, a famous French opera company established in 1714, during the last year of Louis XIV’s rule. He played comedy at the fashionable resort theaters at Lunéville and Ferney. He mingled with royalty and prominent philosophers like Voltaire, but also wrote poetry and theater pieces for the masses in a genre called poissard (fish market -language of the masses). At one point in his life, he decided to pursue dentistry. Following the passage of the examination required by the Order of Saint-Come, he established himself as a practicing dentist in the city of Nancy (chirurgien dentiste), rising to become royal dentist to the King of Poland, Stanisław Leszczyński, (and father-in-law to Louis XV). In 1777, Lécluse returned to Paris thinking about reentering theater. As an entrepreneur he created the le théâtre des Variétés amusantes (The Theater of Amusing Varieties) but failed in his undertaking. This was also the time of the French Revolution and it is not known how he was affected by these historical events. We know from a period encyclopedia that gives a brief bio of Lécluse that he was imprisoned for debt, and after his release he performed as a buffoon in vaudeville theaters. In 1792 Lecluse died in poverty at the age of 81.

In the earlier part of his interesting life, he published poetry and a play (Le déjeunér de Rapée, 1748). His dentally related publications include four works: Traite utile au public, ou l’on enseigne la methode de remedier aux douleurs et accidents qui precedent et accompagnent la sortie des premiers dents. (freely translated: Remedial methods for pain and accidents surrounding the eruption of primary teeth), Paris 1750. A second work entitled; Anatomie de la bouche (The anatomy of the oral cavity) was published in 1752 and republished in 1782 (a copy of which is in our library). A third work published in 1755 deals with preserving carious teeth: Eclaircissements essentiels pour prevenir a preserver les dents de la caries. The fourth and most important work, the one in our collection is: Nouveaux éléments d'odontologie (New elements of dentistry), published in 1754. Lécluse was a student of Fauchard’s work and was influenced to adopt a scientific approach to dentistry. Published 28 years after Fauchard’s seminal work, he thanks him. Lecluse believed that with this book he was supplementing what was lacking in the best books on the art of dentistry.

The book is divided into two parts: the first part, 85-page-long and four chapters, describes the osteology of the face, jaws, dental anatomy, muscles of the lip and those of mastication and blood and nerve supply of the face and mouth. The second part developed over five chapters is dedicated to clinical application of dentistry. If the first part is where Lecluse shows his extensive medical knowledge, the second part is where he displays his skills as a dentist. Starting from cleaning teeth to treating various oral diseases, Lecluse attempts to share his experience as a dentist. The book extends to 285 pages and also includes six illustrations of tools used in dental extraction.

Overall, Lecluse’s contributions are relatively minor when compared to the giants of his time including Pierre Fauchard in France, John Hunter in England and Albrecht von Haller in Germany.

Digital Version

(Based in part on research by Byum Hee Kil, class of 2024 as part of her assignment in the Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry Course Fall 2020). Notes compiled by Andrew I Spielman.