A true father figure
Word of mouth, Paul O’Dwyer looks at how the ideas of a French dentist born in 1679 are still relevant today
Words: Dr Paul O’ Dwyer BDS MSc (Healthcare Mgmt)
Pierre Fauchard is regarded by most as the “Father of Modern Dentistry”. He was born in Saint-Denis-de-Gastines in 1679. He served as a combat medic with the French Navy and, on leaving the service, he worked in the University of Angers Hospital.
He described himself as a “surgeon dentist”. He was regarded as a very capable surgeon, often improvising and improving on existing instruments. It is noted that he converted various instruments from watchmakers, jewellers and even barbers – and used them all in the surgical treatment of patients.
However, it wasn’t just for this surgical expertise that his fame is known; his curiosity and study brought about even more innovation and scientific research.
Fauchard introduced dental restorative treatments for dental cavities. He was convinced that sugary acids were responsible for dental decay. He posited also that “tumours” could appear in the latter end stages of tooth decay.
Fauchard also pioneered brace therapy – using gold wires held in place by threads. He noted that teeth would move under pressure from the wires. The ongoing practice gained Fauchard great prestige within medical circles, particularly with his invention and use of dental prosthesis. His move to Paris in 1718 allowed him to concentrate on writing a much-needed textbook. Five years of research, interviews and study culminated in The Surgical Dentist, published in 1723 at the age of 45. A further edition, in two volumes, appeared some years later, as he incorporated feedback and observation from the scientific and medical communities.
Among the 38 chapters of that book were topics such as dental anatomy, pathology, surgery, dental caries, orthodontics and therapeutics. Fauchard was a firm believer in science – and wished to see dentistry leave the idea of being a “craft” and become a “profession”.
He was responsible for identifying more than 100 different oral diseases and also championed dental hygiene for each patient. He was also responsible for introducing the idea of a dental light over a dental chair – and made detailed drawings of a working dental drill.
Fauchard died at the age of 82, and is reputedly buried on the grounds of the Saint Come Church, not too far from the Faculty of Medicine (University of Paris). His grave is suggested to be below the Boulevard Saint-Michel.
The ideals that Fauchard held in wishing to see dentistry develop into its own profession were underlined by his tireless work and study. His publication and practices transformed the practice of dentistry throughout Europe and beyond. He is rightly regarded as a visionary leader.
The Pierre Fauchard Academy is an international dental organisation that was founded in 1936 by Dr Elmer S. Best, a Minnesota dentist. Among its objectives is to recognise and acknowledge the more dedicated and conscientious dentists by inviting them to Fellowship in the Academy. The Academy ensures that Fauchard’s legacy to dentistry is sustained by sponsoring mentorship programmes and fostering the sharing of information among colleagues. It maintains a Hall of Fame, which honours the most famous dentists in the history of our profession.
Awards for outstanding achievement in dentistry are presented annually. The Academy is particularly mindful of its role in encouraging students and presents a prestigious Undergraduate Certificate of Merit to one student each year in every participating dental school. Through the PFA Foundation, it offers scholarships, funds research and training programmes, and supports a broad range of charitable activities such as projects that increase access to care for underserved populations.
The Pierre Fauchard Academy is currently comprised of nearly 11,000 Fellows worldwide. It is comprised of 142 sections – 55 in the United States and another 87 throughout the world, including South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
The membership is made up of dentists who are among the most outstanding leaders in various fields of dentistry. The Academy is administered by a Board of Trustees, consisting of five officers and 11 trustees from around the world. Section organisation includes a Chairperson and such other officers or committee members as the Section may elect. The administrative office of the Academy is located in Rockville, Maryland, USA.
Over the past two years, I have been honoured to represent Europe as the European Trustee, and have been privileged to work alongside the dedicated Board and fellows throughout the continent and worldwide. The pandemic and ongoing war in Ukraine has made organisation of face-to-face meetings/gatherings challenging, but the hope is that 2023 will see a return to in-person meetings. I am planning to assist in the re-launch of the Irish Section later this year, with the help of our new Section Head and plan to make the PFA a staple member of dental life here in Ireland once more. It is fitting that the ideals of the Father of Modern Dentistry are held high once more, as a beacon, as we exit the recent global pandemic.