A Practical Treatise Upon Dentition

Joseph Hurlock

Joseph Hurlock


Not much is known about the life of Joseph Hurlock, except that he was both a surgeon and later on in life, the director of the East India Company and spent time in Sumatra. His marriage to Sarah Hartopp in 1755 resulted in one daughter, Anne.

At the time when Hurlock wrote "A Practical Treatise Upon Dentition", in 1742, Fauchard was already working on his second enlarged edition of Le Chirurgien Dentist and Fauchard’s influence was well underway in the France, Germany and other parts of Europe. But not in England. Fauchard's seminal work was not translated into English for another 204 years. It was undertaken by Lindsey for the 200th year anniversary of the 1746 2d edition of the book. For that matter, Hurlock's book is considered quite significant for England. Before his book, the first English language book dedicated solely to dentistry was Charles Allen's, 1685 book, "The operator for the Teeth" (a first edition is available in our collection).

Hurlock's book was printed in London in 1742 and it has 291 pages. According to Bernhard Wolf Weinberger, the original owner of our library, "as far as English dental literature is concerned, it began with Joseph Hurlock in 1742". He also states that "Hurlock was a strong advocate for cutting the gums of infants to permit teeth to erupt more readily and prevent convulsions". The book describes XX cases in which Hurlock lanced the gums of children presumably in distress because of teething problems. In reality all these cases had other serious systemic problems unrecognized due to the state of medicine of the time, from the effect of maternal alcoholism on fetal development, to post-natal convulsions or simply due to extreme cold weather. Many of the infants he saw end up passing away, making Hurlock draw the wrong conclusions.

Not everything in this book is out of touch with current medical knowledge. He made an early connection between diet and caries in the deciduous teeth. He also recommended that youngsters affected by teething problems be sent to the country where fresh air and better food could be obtained. Nevertheless, reading this book written in easy English, one thanks for the major discoveries in medicine and dentistry in the past 275 years.

Based in part on research done by Jenna Freda, class of 2021 as part of their assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2017-2018. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.

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