Operator For The Teeth

book 1

​Charles Allen

1687 (3rd edition)

Charles Allen, was the author of the first English text on dentistry. He was a practicing “operator for the teeth” as dentists were called in England at the time. The short (58 page) treatise is a collection of practical advise on how to treat and replace lost teeth. For his is one of the first to address prosthetic replacement of missing teeth. The book has seven sections. The seventh section was added after the first edition was published in 1685.

The first section is entitled
Of the Nature of the Teeth. This section describe the parts of the teeth, enamel and the inner pulp containing “capillary veins”, a term that was described by Marcello Malpighi just 26 years earlier in 1661.

Section II is entitled
Of the Alteration of the Teeth, with their Remedies. This section describes the theory behind tooth decay: enamel “transpires” like the skin. Blockage of those “invisible passages” where the “teeth emit certain effluvium” leads to “infirmities”.
He correctly links salivary flow and calculus formation. He also recommends the use of a home made dentifrice: “mix “Magistery of Pearls, Powder of Coral, and Dragons-Blood with Rose Water, in equal part and make a dentifrice that can be used once a week to keep teeth clean and white”.

Section III is entitled
Of the Corruption of the Teeth, with their Remedies”. This section describes ways to clean and treat carious lesions to try to save the tooth. He correctly advises to save even roots to maintain the support for other teeth: “I would advise every one to keep his teeth as long as he can, although they were rotten to the very gums, provided only they do not ache, by reason that their stumps filling up their sockets, serve (like so many wedges) to keep the others straight and firm in their places”.

Section IV is entitle
“Of the Restoration of the Teeth”. This section deal with prosthetic replacement using artificial teeth ligated to existing teeth using a thread, or a denture carved out of hippopotamus ivory. Allen also recommends transplantation of teeth (from donors, or dogs and sheep) into freshly extracted sockets, “takeing out the rotten teeth or stumps, and putting in their places some found ones, drawn immediately after out of some poor body's head”, a trendy procedure of the time.

Section V is entitled
Of the Tooth-Ake, Looseness of the Teeth, and decay of the Gums, with their Remedies. Allen correctly identifies that inflammation and dilation of arteries compressing the nerve in the confined space of the pulp is the cause of the pain, although he subscribes to the humoral theory of disease and does not fully understand blood circulation as Harvey described in 1628 or the way Malpighi’s discovery connect the larger blood circulation to the pulmonary one.

The last two (VIth and VIIth) sections of the book deals with “Children’s Teeth” and “Of the Acceleration of the Teeth”.

This edition also contains a “Discourse on the Beating of the Pulse” a 14-page essay.

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