Considérations théoriques et pratiques sur la dentition difficile, 1799 (Theoretical and practical consideration for difficult teething)

Considérations théoriques et pratiques sur la dentition difficile, 1799


JFM Dalivet - 1799, Montpellier.

JFM Dhalivet defended his short, 40-page dissertation thesis in 1799 at University of Montpellier. “Difficult teething” was a major preoccupation of the time. Since ancient times, tooth eruption was considered a cause of premature baby death. As a consequence, surgeons like Ambroise Paré, suggested lancing the gum to ease the eruption pain. Dalivet thought to summarize in his thesis what was known at the time, 1799.

Today we know that there is no such a diagnosis as “difficult teething” and tooth eruption does not need any surgical help. In the 18th and 19th century a whole industry developed around “difficult teething”, providing surgical help and giving “soothing syrups” to babies (primarily to calm the parents). In the US and Great Britain a “soothing syrup” patent-medicine industry mushroomed in the 19th century. Such patent medications contained narcotics (opium, morphine, cocaine and even heroine). The false claims, the use of narcotics and addictive ingredients, and the abuse of the system of advertisement compelled the US Congress to intervene. In 1906 they introduced the Pure Food and Drug Act to put an end to false advertising and the prescription of addictive drugs to babies. Several well-publicized cases using such syrups as Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, or Kopp’s Elixir and others, caused overdose and several death. The press called these products “baby killers”. So much for trying to help “difficult teething”.

Dalivet’s dissertation describes a period when tooth eruption was misinterpreted and in trying to help, they made things worse.

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Editorial notes by Andrew I Spielman.