Robert Blake (1772-1822)

An Essay on the Structure and Formation of the Teeth in Man & Various Animals (1801).

An Essay on the Structure and Formation of the Teeth in Man & Various Animals (1801).

Dr. Robert Blake was the first State Dentist of Dublin. Born in 1772, he graduated from the Department of Physics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1798. He pursued dentistry due to the influence of his uncle, Edward Hudson, an Irish dentist, and a cousin, cousin, Henry Philerin Hudson (1798-1889) also a dentist. Edward Hudson’s cousin (1772-1833), also a dentist, was one of the first dentists to remove dental pulp and fill the canal with gold foil in the Americas.

Dr. Robert Blake had an active life. He was Secretary to the Physico-Medical Society of Dublin. Along with being the first State Dentist of Dublin, Dr. Blake maintained a large dental practice within the city. He was a pleasant individual. An excerpt from the Freeman’s Journal following Blake’s death fondly remembered him as having “goodness of heart”, “integrity”, and “genuine simplicity of manners”.  This “simplicity of manners” is evident in his published work purposefully made to be understandable to the public.

An  Essay on the Structure and Formation of the Teeth in Man and Various Animals was an English translation published in 1801 of Blake’s original thesis in Latin, Disputatio medica inauguralis, de dentium formation et structura in homine et in variis animalibus published in Edinburgh three years prior. The Essay was considered an important work in the English language on the subject. Robert Blake’s observations regarding the formation of enamel, referenced as ‘cortex striatus’, describe the structure as adhering firmly to the neck of the tooth. By studying a variety of different animals Dr. Blake was able to make new observations. It was the opinion at the time that enamel, unlike other bones, could not be affected in color by madder. However, Dr. Blake studying pig teeth, showed that it was possible. Dr. Blake studied graminivorous teeth, those of animals which feed on grass. He noticed that these animals were distinct in having enamel which covered the body of the tooth further descending below the surface of the tooth. Such observations were not entirely unique for the time but his presentation to the Royal Society in 1798 predates publication of other’s work referencing such observations in 1799. Dr. Blake discovered that these principles were applicable to elephant teeth. A further expanded and revised edition of Dr. Robert Blake’s thesis was later published in 1851.

Based on research done by Merin Stephen, 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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