Essay Sur Les Maladies Des Dents
1702 - 1748
Robert Bunon, born on May 1st, 1702 in Chalon-sur-Marne (Chalons-en-Champagne today), France, is considered the "father to pediatric dentistry" because of his focus on prevention and parental instructions.
In his early professional life, he travelled to Liege, Antwerp, Brussels, Valenciennes and the countryside of the Flanders to enhance his practical dental training. The publication of Pierre Fauchard's Le Chirurgien Dentist, had a profound influence on the 26-year old Bunon. As a practicing dentist, Bunon formulated a new toothpaste that he claimed to be an elixir for swelling and inflammation of the gums, while strengthening the teeth, reducing bad breath and curing cankers and pimples of the mouth. In 1739, at age 37, he was sworn into the Order of St Comes, the order of the "Surgeons of the Long Robe". As his reputation grew due to his books, Louis XV named him dentist to his eight daughters (aged 11 through 21) replacing Pierre Fauchard's brother -in-law, Laurent Tugdual Chemin. Unfortunately, he served only one year in this capacity before dying prematuraly.
Bunon's first major publication on prevention was dated 1741 and is entitled Dissertation sur un prejugé très-pernicieux concernant les maux de dents qui surviennent aux femmes grosses. (Dissertation on the pernicious prejudice of toothache in pregnant women). The focus of Bunon's is prevention of disease rather than treatment, a novel concept for the time. He recommends that pregnant women spend more time taking care of themselves, since the development of their offspring depends on it. He recognized the influence of the mother on all aspects of the development of the fetus, including the development of teeth. The work details the eruption pattern of primary teeth and the consequences of neglect on oral health later on in life.
A second work of Bunon in our collection is the Essay Sur Les Maladies Des Dents, or the Essay on the Diseases of the Teeth published in 1743. The Essay is written with a mixed audience in mind with easy to understand instructions for both a physician, dentist, or a parent. It contains 212 pages divided into six chapters. Like in his previous work, in it Bunon stressed the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene from an early age. Like all books of its time, it was dedicated to a royal court member, in this case to Monsieur de la Peyronie, the Royal Surgeon. Instead of accepting the dedication de la Peyronie challenged Bunon to live up to his lofty goals described in his book. In response, Bunon examined several thousand patients and then brought 161 cases before Monsieur de la Peyronie, as a demonstration. Learning from the experience, Bunon undertook a subsequent demonstration at the Salpêtrier Hospital, published in his 1746 publication entitled Expériences et démonstrations faites à l’Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, another volume we possess in our library (see list).
Prior to 1743, books focused on the aetiology and descriptions of treatments and instruments but not the importance of prevention in dentistry, in wich Bunon made significant contributions to the field. In addition, he was among the first to highlight the importance of proper tooth alignment for comfort, beauty and ease within society, presaging the field of orthodontics. Bunon's work was transformative and ahead of its time.
Based in part on research done by Haley Leatherbarrow and Ronna Abayev, class of 2021 as part of their assignment in Elective in History of Medicine and Dentistry, 2017-2018. Edited by Andrew I Spielman.