Joseph Fox (1775-1816)
The Natural History and Diseases of the Human Teeth
Dr. Joseph Fox was a pioneer in his field. He was born on November 7, 1775, in London, in a family of a dentist. He received his medical training at Guy’s Hospital in 1794 and was trained as a dentist by his father. Dr. Fox is best known for a series of lectures he gave to medical students at London’s Guy’s Hospital in 1779, one of the first for the field, and later became the basis for his books. Dr. Fox was highly respected amongst his peers, students, and the public alike. Up until his untimely death in 1816 at age of 40, Dr. Fox continued with his work in dentistry, education, and philanthropy.
The books based on Dr. Fox’s lectures at Guy’s Hospital were The Natural History and Diseases of the Human Teeth (1803) and The History and Treatment of the Diseases of the Teeth (1806). Both works are regarded as some of the first most important dental texts in the English Language. These books focused on dental pathology, anatomy, and operative and surgical procedures. Dr. Fox was a supporter of improving and maintaining the integrity of the dental profession. He influenced the thinking of the founders of the first dental school, Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden. Hi advocated that dentistry must have a science background and was part of medicine.
The Natural History and Diseases of the Human Teeth was published in 1803 emphasized the importance of teeth and the dental profession. The book describes the formation of temporary and permanent teeth, the development and shedding of teeth, the irregularities in teeth formation, the treatment of irregularities in teeth formation, supernumerary teeth, and the chemical analysis of tooth structure. It goes into detail on fixing the irregularities of teeth formation – perhaps with the earliest form of braces and palate expanders including illustrations of the tools and methods to fix misaligned teeth and the impact of malformed jaws in the alignment of the permanent teeth.
The style Dr. Fox writes are in a lecture type format, often includes personal commentary on issues within the dental profession.
Dr. Fox emphasizes the importance of regularly scheduled visits to the dentist for a developing child ‘to assist the permanent teeth in acquiring their proper arrangement. He covers sequentially the milestones for a developing child for the eruption of teeth and providing treatment plan options before the teeth erupt to make sure it is aligned in the dentition.
This book provides an insight to the dental profession and the daily life of a dentist in the beginning of the 1800s..
Based on research done by Vasudha Kumar, class of 2025 as part of her assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2021-2022. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.