Treatise on The Teeth of the Human Body and Their Diseases

Phillip Pfaff
Phillip Pfaff

Phillip Pfaff


Phillip Pfaff (February 28, 1713- March 4, 1766) was a brilliant and acclaimed German dentist. His father, a surgeon and practicing dentist taught his son, Philip while he was training to become a surgeon in Berlin. Phillip went on to become Germanys first "state-appointed dentist" and served time in the military as a company surgeon in the First Silesian War (between Prussia and Austria, 1740-1742). He served as the Royal Prussian court dentist to the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great and was amongst the first Germans to publish a treatise on dentistry.

In 1756, Pfaff published Abhandlung von den Zähnen des menschlichen Körper, translated to "Treatise on The Teeth of the Human Body and Their Diseases". This was the first textbook related to dentistry in Germany. His book describes the anatomy, physiology, pathology and treatment of teeth. He explains how extraction is the only option for teeth affected with gingival abscesses and fistulas. Pfaff is the first to take dental and arch impressions. The book describes how to work with beeswax impressions and obtain cast models with plaster of paris. He would take it in two steps, first the right half of the arch than the left and combine the two afterwards. Pfaff also touches upon materials that can be used to produce artificial teeth, such as silver and copper. At his time, ivory, bone, and sea cow teeth were the traditional materials used. In addition to this contribution to dentistry, he was also the first person to carry out capping of the dental pulp with gold foil before placing a filling. Pfaff was ahead of his time when he warned others not to use a hard toothbrush although he suggested the use of a toothbrush once every two weeks. Pfaff denied the presence of roots in primary teeth.

As the dentist of the King of Prussia, he had considerable influence in his career and used this influence to spread innovative techniques. Philip Pfaff and his wife, Dorothea Sophia Pfaff, were known for their modesty and humanitarianism. The couple had no children. Philip Pfaff died at 53 years due to “breast disease”, or as some speculate, tuberculosis. Dorothea Sophia Pfaff assisted Pffaf in his treatments and after his death, treated children for free.

(Based on researched done by Khadija Cheema, class of 2021, as part of her assignment in Elective course in History of Medicine and Dentistry - 2017-2018.)

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