'The Surgeon Dentist' by Pierre Fauchard
Updated: Aug 29
It was the History of Dentistry that in fact secured me the BDJ commission in the first place. I had produced a few pieces of artwork inspired by reading ‘Dental Cosmos’ papers. I found the language used quite theatrical, reading it I could picture the atmosphere and hear the voices of the 17-1800s, transporting me back in time. I went on the hunt for aged paper, creating an aged look to printed documents and found a cup of black tea pretty much did the trick.
I popped the artwork on social media (as you do) and had quite a bit of interest and thought “Well, perhaps our past can be brought to the present again through a visual”. I was due to exhibit at the British Dental Association headquarters in London the following week. There I met Brian Williams, honorary secretary of the Lilian Lindsay Society for the History of Dentistry. We had a chat and before I knew it Melissa Cassem Arts editor of the BDJ emailed me about the BDJ cover series commission. This chance encounter was one that soon propelled me down a new path. To celebrate 100 years of dental literature. The literature that forged your identity today.
I love a bit of history, but as I had entered the dental profession myself, I also wanted to explore the identity of the dentist. I had felt that there was a discrepancy between how we are shaped at dental school to become a health care provider first, nurtured and inspired by the wonders of education and how that appears to fade within practicing life and how passion can be replaced with stress.
Why is your identity important? – Through this BDJ cover artwork I will try to explain and to do that we start with our past. The first cover artwork of the historic collection is ‘The Surgeon Dentist’ or Treatise on the Teeth, by Pierre Fauchard. Who believe it or not is identified as the ‘Father of Modern Dentistry’… even with that wig!
This project moves quite fast and I am lucky that I have been provided with a small support network of knowledgeable people that help locate information and images for me. Melissa Cassem, Helen Nield, Rachel Bairsto and Brian Williams.
Who was Pierre Fauchard and what did he bring to dentistry?
Brian explained that “Pierre Fauchard was born in Brittany. At 15 he began training as a surgeon with the French Navy where his teacher, Surgeon Major Alexandre Poteleret, was particularly interested in diseases of the teeth and mouth. Nineteen years later Pierre moved to Paris as a ‘Chirurgien-dentiste’ (Surgeon-dentist), where he ran a very successful practice as a skilled and knowledgeable operator”
We must remember that in the early 1700s, dentistry was very primitive. “There were no formal training or governing bodies. It was a free-for-all with the public suffering the consequences of ignorance and incompetence in the hands of the operator. Those ‘dentists’ of any standing jealously guarded their techniques from those less able than themselves!”. We come from delightful stock then eh. It was into this maelstrom of ignorance, incompetence, greed and disease that Pierre launched his seminal work on dental procedures, based on scientific research and his own clinical observations.
The work in two volumes consisted of 800 pages, many with illustrations covering over 100 diseases of the teeth and oral cavity. Orthodontics, oral surgery, periodontics, prosthodontics were all illustrated and explained; as well as anatomy, pathology and pharmacology. Pretty impressive for that time right! Pierre was passionate to the cause and slowly but surely began to alter the identity of ‘The Dentist’ of the day and create a formal, recognised profession in its own right.
As an artist it was the search for illustrations that drove me to use social media to access them, particularly during lockdown. Platforms such as Instagram act as an endless portal for knowledge and inspiration. Yet just like dentistry…the key is knowing what to take, choose wisely because this influences the mind and whilst as an artist I put that to canvas you put that to patients and in doing so risk more than I.
Pierre was clearly a forward thinker for his time. He was not precious of his work either, instead tirelessly committed to the greater good. Pierre Fauchard in fact perhaps demonstrated the first evidence of peer review, as “he sent his book round to various contemporaries for them to read and feed back to him on before he published it fully”. “No more individuals hiding their own ‘knowledge’ when Pierre’s book was available for all to study and learn from” Brian explained. He showed the destructive power of sugar and dismissed the ‘worm’ theory of tooth decay, advocated the filling of teeth for strength, straightening of irregular teeth and the re-implanting of those avulsed. “Many of his ideas remain the bases for dentistry today; including oil of cloves, still used in the treatment of pulpitis”.
Pierre died in Paris at the age of 83, having campaigned all his life against quackery and charlatans; but his legacy opened the door for the well trained and governed profession of today. Pierre gave to us the identity, morals and standing of a ‘Dentist’.
Yet his book remained an inaccessible reference to English readers for two centuries until 1946 when Lilian Lindsay published her translation of Fauchard’s second edition.
Who was Lilian Lindsay?
Brian explained that “Lilian Lindsay was the first woman to qualify as a dentist in the UK from Edinburgh Dental School in 1895; having been refused entry to a London Dental School because she was female! But she went on to become a leading dental historian. A self-taught linguist she gained a sound understanding of French and German as well as a working knowledge of Spanish and Anglo-Saxon” a natural linguist perhaps.
In 1920 she became the BDA’s first librarian and sub-editor of the British Dental Journal in 1931. “A meticulous researcher into the history of dentistry and blessed with a phenomenal memory she published over 57 original papers and numerous translations of articles on the subject; as well as a book, ‘Short History of Dentistry’ (1933) while still finding time for the BDA library and Journal”.
So again we have another passionate dedicated individual of our profession. Dr Lindsay was approached several times by dentists to translate Pierre Fauchard’s text. Lilian Lindsay’s writes to dentist and folklorist, B.R. Townend, mentioning Fauchard on the first page, thanking him for being the second person to ask for her translation.
Clearly an intelligent woman, I wanted to know more about this independent high achieving female, respectfully succeeding in what must have felt like a man’s world.
The artwork: A story retold
Now having a better understanding of the history and significance of the book ‘The Surgeon Dentist’ and of two talented and dedicated individuals. I had to decide how best to convey that very story in a single image. Yet instead I decided to tell the story through collage.
Through social media I connected with a collector of historic dental texts. We chatted about the significance of the text, artwork ideas and philosophy. He sees the same artistic beauty that I see in our history.
I took a print of the first few pages of the book as a centre reference and began to layer some of documents to begin the collage. I discussed with Hisham how the cover of the book itself might have looked. I went for a traditional Ox blood red leather look and studied an original copy that he owns. I studied old letters from that time provided by Helen and Rachel and looked to transfer the colours, textures, worn edges, tares and ink smudges of the original documents onto the artwork.
Two faces appear on the piece, the author and translator to give the story its characters.
Objects belonging to each character were added. For Pierre I copied and colourised illustrations from his book. I would usually pop down to Edinburgh’s Surgeons Hall or the Huntarian Museum in Glasgow to study dental instruments and illustrations but in lockdown it was not possible. This was quite frustrating, and I remember having a Blue Peter moment making a paper model to observe where the shadows fell, so as to better impose them onto the book (the things I do for you!). It’s a good job I have two Blue Peter badges! Haha.
Helen explained that “her books were really important to her as were personal gifts”. Florence Messer who worked at the BDJ and who she treated like an extra niece “gave her some pink wool for Christmas that she had knitted in to a jumper and 15-20 years later she writes to her to mention that she is wearing it as she writes the letter”. So quite a sentimental woman and caring too.
Lillian Lindsay was a great letter writer and her surviving correspondence was all handwritten. “In the Lilian Lindsay booklet by R Cohen ‘several hundred of her letters, many in her own very clear handwriting, are still in existence indicating how much they were treasured by the recipient, either because they contained the answer to some historical questions, some philosophical discussion or as a comfort to a bereaved parent or worried friend”. She was also the first female BDA President and also received CBE. It was apparent that this lady was loved by many, recognised her position of standing, trust and duty. Duty to armouring the profession with literature that would respectfully maintain the foundations of its forefather Pierre, for years to come.
To get more of her personality across I included her handwriting in the letter back to Townend and a collection of historic books on a bookshelf in the background. Her CBE takes centre place resting on the pages of the book. Most importantly it is the very reason the Fauchard was published in 1946 as “The British Dental Association asked Lilian Lindsay what she wanted to do to celebrate her presidential year and she said she’d really like to get her translation published – and so they arranged it!”.
This action reflects her selfless identity, having the same dedication to duty as Pierre himself. Resulting in cooperation; where scientific study blossomed, resurrecting an identity firmly formed in the past. A reminder of the foundation of the dentistry that we all benefit from today.
Identity in dentistry today
For me the production of the BDJ artwork has had to link with the authors on a personal level where possible because it is this element that brings the piece to life and takes it to the depth that is respectfully required for a project of this nature. This is a celebration of 100 years of the dental profession’s dedication to its duty, to its literature, education and the library itself in facilitating that over the years. To me this is a strong identity to be associated with as I enter this profession myself, now with more pride, admiration, determination and perspective that I could have wished for.
However, today as a dental professional, who we are seen to be, and who we are as a person can be in conflict with one another. In which our self-conceptions are linked to the stress process, the magnitude of which is linked to our highly pressured role-identity domain. To balance adversity required us to deemphasise our role. Not to devalue or lose dedication but to balance who we are as a person with who we are as a professional.
Interestingly all of the authors and specialist in their field that I have been fortunate enough to talk to have a few things in common; life’s balance, a stable and supporting home life and utter enjoyment in their work. Their focus was “fulfilment”, whereas “success” whatever that might be, was less important to them actually. This feature reminded me of Pierre and Lilian’s act to bring about and maintain the identity of a dentist. Fulfilment appears to create a deeper sense of personal achievement, strength and then happiness overall.
Fast forward to today and the ethos of dental education has not changed, the ethos of dentistry remains the same so why is our identity changing both in society and by many dental professionals? Why are we “seen” and why do many often aspire to be a creator of beauty first?
There are many influential factors for sure but social media has a major role to play. Like moths to a flame many people are easily influenced by a visual, and what better and easier way to influence both the public and provider than through beauty. It is the easiest photograph to take and will sell your treatment and “success” over and over again. Yet very importantly, social media has become 'life’s veneer' for many and as the identity of a healthcare provider lies within our bedrock, we have a responsibility to convey the significance of health too and consider psycho-surgery that improves emotional state. Here in the 21st centenary we discover more about the person. Therefore we need to respect the power of the being and be seen to balance our biomedical and technological visions with person-centeredness.
But how? A stable reduced periodontium post treatment isn’t a pretty picture, healthy natural teeth aren’t the shade of the bathroom sink, so what then?...You make a choice on how you identify your professional-self....right?
Today we are living in a fast-changing complex society to which we need to adapt. We no longer lay sole claim to dental and medical knowledge. Luckily we are life long learners and for society to become sustainable they too must become a learning society. We just have to teach, show them and each other the right things. Like an artist facilitates a voice, listens to the story and applies that to a canvas, you too have to go through these motions to provide treatment that is as personal as a portrait of a loved one. So the choice is taken from you now because the truth is, people deserve nothing less and if you take on the precious identity of a dentist then comes with it a very beautiful responsibility.
Thank you for taking the time to read the Blog!
(Image permissions @ BDA Library)