Doctrina de morbis dentium ac gingivarum (1778)

Joseph Jacob Plenck

Joseph Jacob Plenck

1735 - 1807

Joseph Jacob Plenck was a Viennese-born physician and author of at least of a dozen works. Educated first in a Latin Jesuit school, Plenck becomes an apprentice to Dr. Johann Christian Retter, a well-known Viennese surgeon. At 21, in 1756 he attended Vienna University Medical School and studies for two years with the famous internist, Anton de Häen, the surgeon Ferdinand von Leber, and the obstetrician Valentin Ferdinand von Lebmacher. The Viennese medical school was the powerhouse of medicine at the time. In 1758 Joseph Plenck entered the Imperial War Army against Prussia and France putting his education on hold. At the end of what was known the Seven Year War, in 1764, he returned to medical school to complete his studies. In 1770, Plenck was named professor of Surgery and Obstetrics at the University of Basel. At the request of Empress Maria Theresia, he takes up a faculty position of University of Tyrnau in the city of Nagyszombat (Hungary at the time), today Trnava, Slovakia. In 1783 he returns to Josephinum, the newly opened Academy of Medicine and Surgery, part of the University of Vienna Medical School where he remains until his retirement. He married twice and had four sons and one daughter, his daughter being the only one to survive him after his death in 1807.

Joseph Plenck was a highly respected scholar with works published in the fields of obstetrics, venereal disease, dermatology, surgery, toxicology, forensic medicine, ophthalmology, botany and dentistry. His many works, almost one every year of his adult life, are listed at the end of this essay. One of the most remarkable insights was his recommendation (Doctrina de Morbis Sexus Feminei, 1808, Vienna, pg 104,) of the use of gloves to protect physicians from venereal disease during delivery. This was 39 before Ignaz Semmelweis (at the same institution) recommended hand washing and 86 years before William Stewart Halsted recommended rubber gloves for surgery at Johns Hopkins University.

Written in Latin, Plenck's thesis, Doctrina de morbis dentium ac gingivarum, (1778) was published in in several languages during his lifetime. We have seven copies in Latin, German and Italian over several editions. The work discusses a complete rendition of basic dentistry starting from normal conditions of the oral cavity to diseases, their prognoses and treatment. He divides his work by sections for dental diseases, diseases of the jaw, of the gingival and that of the maxillary sinus. He discusses caries and is careful to make a distinction separating stains from decay. He explains to expect when extracting a tooth and how to handle hemorrhage, severe inflammation and fracture of the alveolar bone. His studies were systematic and practical, rather than innovative and supplied important information for the practice of dentistry in the late 1700s.

Some of Joseph Jacob Plenck's works

  • Chirurgiae atque Artis Obstetricae Magistri Novum Systema Tumorum 1767
  • Doctrina de Morbus Oculorum 1777
  • Doctrina de Morbus Veneris 1779
  • Primae Linae Anatomes in Usum Praelectionum 1780
  • Pharmacia Chirurgicae seu Doctrina de Medicamentis 1780
  • Elementa Artis Obstetriciae 1781
  • Elementa Medicinae et Chirurgiae Forensis 1781
  • Doctrina de Morbus Cutaneis 1783
  • Bromatologia, seu Doctrina Esculentis et Potulentis 1784
  • Toxicologia, seu Doctrina de Venenis et Antidotis 1785
  • Hydrologia Corporis Humani 1794
  • Doctrina de Morbis Sexus Feminei, 1808

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

Digital Version

First editions (two copies) from 1778 of Doctrina de morbis dentium ac gingivarum >>>

  • 1779 – one German edition - Lehre von den Krankheiten der Zähne, und des Zahnfleisches
  • 1781, 1786 and 1798 - three Italian editions - De' morbi de' denti e delle
  • 1796 edition in Latin - Doctrina de morbis dentium ac gingivarum