Dissertatio inauguralis medica de morbis linguae - 1791
Johann Christian Heinrich Breidenstein (1769 - 1827)
Johann Christian Heinrich Breidenstein is one of many doctoral students of the late 18th century engaged in a study of the oral cavity. His work was published in 1791 in Erlangen, Germany. Very little is known about his background, except that he was from Wilhelmsdorf, Bayreuth, Bavaria. “Dissertatio inauguralis medica de morbis linguae,” is a work on lingual pathology, a 42-page study also translated into German and published the same year (Von den Krankheiten der Zunge). The German translation was republished the following year. Breidenstein did not publish any additional works.
The dissertation provides a summary of what was known about the pathology of the tongue in the late 18th century. He uses as reference works of the great Albrecht von Haller, Primae Linae Physiologiae in Usum Praeelectionum Academicarum, a 1751 work which we have in our collection as well. Breidenstein also refers to the work of “Ludwig”, who could be either Christian Gottlieb Ludwig (1709 –1773), but more likely his son, Christian Friedrich Ludwig (1757 -1823), who just published Primae lineae anatomiae pathologicae, Leipzig 1785.
Breidenstein’s thesis starts with a description of the muscles of the tongue, the role of the papillae and of the salivary glands. He summarizes the knowledge of the innervation of the tongue including the role of the chorda tympani in taste.
In subsequent sections Breidenstein comments on the pathology associated with abnormal muscular functions of the tongue. As expected of the late 18th century, his explanation of the various pathologies is based on an imbalance of the four humors (blood, flehm, black and yellow biles), a theory originally put forward by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C.E. Breidenstein attributes lingual paralysis specifically to a compression of the lingual nerve due to an excessive volume in local blood vessels. Similarly, he attributes different forms of glossitis to blood imbalance.
The thesis describes other pathologies such as abnormal frenula including ankyloglossia, and its surgical treatment using frenectomy. He warns of complications that can result from an over mobile tongue, such as obstruction of the pharynx. He compares the appearance of the healthy with pathological tongue. Mentions xerostomia and again associates the colors of the tongue with an imbalance of humors. Conditions such as ‘black hairy tongue,’ are described as having hairs that ‘resprout’ despite being plucked.
Breidenstein is able to correctly point out the role sexual interactions in the development of oral cancer, a progressive observation for its time. He describes the mucous cyst, the ranulas, and a condition termed glossanthracem, most likely anthrax. He refers to glossanthracem as a plague-like disease spread from white-coated cattle, horses and mules that ultimately results in the death of the infected individual. Such a description would fit anthrax.
Overall, Breidenstein's short dissertation thesis provides a synopsis of the knowledge on the diseases of the tongue in the late 18th century.
(Based on research by Ammar Khan class of 2024 as part of his assignment in the Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry Course Fall 2020).