The history of dentistry is easily revealed through the beautiful art that has recorded some of the major high points of this specialty.
Nineteenth century reproduction(?) of Saint Apollonia, oil on canvas by Sassoferrato (Giovanni Battista Salvi) (1609–1685)
For centuries, the pathophysiology of dental disease was a mystery, leaving an opportunity for those dealing in superstition and the occult to explain the unexplainable. Many turned to religion and as a result St. Apollonia became the patron saint of dentistry after her execution in 249 A.D. Her image is found in churches throughout the world, and she is usually pictured carrying pincers holding a tooth in her right hand and a martyr’s palm in her left.
A caza de dientes (“Out Hunting for Teeth”), sketch by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746–1828)
Spanish painter Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) recognized the fabled power of teeth when he sketched a woman reaching up to remove a tooth from a hanged man still on the gallows as she protected her face with a scarf.
Quacks on stage, oil on wood attributed to a painter from the Netherlands
“Tooth pullers” and barber-surgeons, who also practiced minor surgery and bleeding, spent most of their time out-of-doors and traveled from one town to another, often in a carnival atmosphere with music, jugglers, and magicians.
Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761)
Early physicians interested in diseases of the mouth and gums finally began to gain respectability with the publication of Le Chirurgien Dentiste, ou Traite des Dents in 1728 by Pierre Fauchard. Fauchard is now recognized as “the Father of Dentistry,” and was the first to use of term “surgeon-dentist,” forever changing dentistry from a trade of tooth-pullers to a true profession of specialists.