Le Citoyen Dentiste
Jean A. Hébert
1726 - 1782
Jean A. Hébert (1726-1782) was a prominent and fashionable French dentist of his time. He studied in Paris and in 1767 received his title of "Chirurgien Dentist", a title invented by Pierre Fauchard. Two years later Hébert is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He practiced in Lyon where in 1771 he is bestowed the "Honorary Dentist of the City of Lyon" title. In his time Herbert worked for the poor and the city, he had a distinguishable voice in his papers as he critiqued other dentist's work, charlatans, and salesmen.
Hérbert's publishing career started with an anonymous work called "Réfutation d'un nouveau Traité d'odontalgie" (Geneva, 1773). In it he criticizes Pierre Auzebi, another Lyonese dentist's 1771 work Traité d'odontalgie (another volume in our collection).
His character is truly seen in the work published in 1778 called "Le Citoyen Dentiste ou l'art de seconder la nature pour se conserver les dents et les entretenir propres. Ouvrage moderne, & a la portee de tout le monde" or in English "The Citizen Dentist or the Art of Assisting Nature to Conserve One's Teeth and Maintain Them Clean, a Modern Work Accessible to Everyone". The work starts with a dedication to the provost of the merchants and the alderman of the city of Lyon, a smart move for Hebert that depended in his activities on the city leadership. The volume is a 95-page paperback with four chapters with information on how to take care of teeth, development and deformations of the teeth, on the primary and secondary teeth, and recipes for dentifrice.
Contrary to his peers, he considered teething pains normal and condemned cutting of the gum to help eruption. He describes a detailed protocol to clean one's mouth with toothpick and wine. He described age-related changes of the mouth and suggested tongue scraping with a spoon from age fourteen. In line with his time's he believed in different humors affecting the mouth, and suggested that bleedings may be beneficial in some cases. He encouraged early cleaning of the teeth as preventive step. At the end of the manuscript he provides recipes for four different dentifrices with ingredients such as egg and oyster shell, lemon, honey and a cuttlebone derived opiate.
Hébert was fundamentally someone who looked out for those in need. Even when he became a retired dentist of the city he performed his duties as a dentist with no charge to those who needed his service. He differentiated from his peers in that he spoke of prevention and preservation of the primary teeth. His work had the everyday patient's health in mind, with a genuine voice of concern, honor, and duty to serve as a dentist. He writes in simple terms and short publications accessible to everybody. Le Citoyen Dentiste and Jean A. Hébert was a work and a man ahead of his time, presaging the French Revolution just 11 years away.
Based in part on research done by Juan Pablo Muñoz, class of 2021 as part of their assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2017-2018. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.