Richard C. Skinner

A Treatise On The Human Teeth (1801)

A Treatise On The Human Teeth (1801)

A Treatise On The Human Teeth is a 26-page pamphlet summarizing, dental anatomy, diseases and treatment, the first American dental publication. Richard Skinner is the father of dental literature in America.

Little is known of Richard C. Skinner’s personal life. It is not even certain this was his real name. The name is merely a deduction from the way he signed a 1788 letter to Benjamin Franklin: Rd. Cort. Skinner. In this letter he kindly asked for a loan of 20 dollars, which would save him (“a young English immigrant from going to prison and enable him to practice the dental profession in the New Land.  It is not known whether he received this loan, but Richard Skinner walked the path from seeking assistance, to becoming the first dentist appointed to a hospital, The New York Dispensary, in 1792. He established the first dental clinic for the poor, providing dental services free of charge to the hospital and the Alms House of New York.

Richard Skinner was truly passionate about the health of the general public. “A Treatise On The Human Teeth” was written for the public, in a simple and concise, yet informative manner. This book served to educate the public, promote oral and general health and prevent dental disease. “A Treatise On The Human Teeth” cost 30 cents in 1801.

It consists of several short chapters including: the structure of the teeth, eruption, disorders and general cause of decay, alveoli or sockets, scurvy of the gum, abscess in the socket and gums, tartar and septic acid and directions of extracting teeth. The pamphlet also contains a list of dental services, including setting artificial eyes and legs and a gold filling at the price of only 1 dollar ($23 in 2022 money).

Treatise of human teeth, published in New York appeared at a time when dentistry, based on local newspaper advertisements of dentists, was still an itinerant practice. Dentistry was not regulated.

Dentists were trained as apprentices in other dentists’ office. The most important and knowledgeable dentists came from France (Jean Gardette) and England (Robert Woffendale, John Baker), dentists that trained some of the prominent American dentists of the time (John Greenwood Sr.). Richard Skinner’s book is a milestone in the rise of American dentistry.

Based on research done by Nicole Grinkevich, class of 2025 as part of her assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2021-2022. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.

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