Dentologia: A Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth (1833)

From The Public Domain Review:

Dentologia begins seemingly far away from the world of teeth. Invoking Juno and Apollo, the first canto ruminates on how “angelic natures” are revealed “when purified from the stains of mortality”. We gradually realize that the “stains” in question have little to do with divinity or sin. The poet is talking about plaque.

The next five sections of this remarkable (and remarkably long) poem prove to be a crash course in dental hygiene and disease prevention — loosely tracking the stages of health from birth unto death. Canto Second is pediatric, concerned with the lifecycle of milk teeth: “Some struggling tooth, just bursting into day / Obtuse and vigorous, urges on its way”. Canto Third is a critique of luxury, laziness, and neglect: “If sloth or negligence the task forbear / Of making cleanliness a daily care”, then “insidious tartar comes / Incrusts the teeth and irritates the gums”. Canto Fourth is all about cavities and implants: the latter being fashioned from the “lordly elephant”, who, “in hoary pride”, toils “through successive ages to provide / The ivory tusk”. Finally, Canto Fifth begins with an apostrophe to health (“Gay, blushing Health!”), and develops into a discussion of how diseases of the mouth affect a body’s general condition. Brown’s poem closes on the image of a woman named Seraphina, a singer whose voice, once “so sweet, the labouring bees might stop to sip”, now only sounds “discordant notes”. Her “premature decay” is caused by a disease of her “dental pearls”. Seraphina’s prescription (and Dentologia’s general argument) can be distilled into four lines — a variation of the message delivered by today’s dentists and hygienists at every appointment’s end:

Let each successive day unfailing bring
The brush, the dentifrice, and, from the spring,
The cleansing flood : — the labor will be small,
And blooming health will soon reward it all.

Published in 1833, Dentologia was written by Solyman Brown, who helped found the first dental journal, society, and school in the United States. Known in his lifetime as “the poet laureate of dentistry”, Brown had sent a draft of Dentologia to Eleazar Parmly, another titan of American toothcare, who showed it to two gentlemen “distinguished for their fine taste in literature”. Overwhelmed by nameless critics’ positive response to the poem, Parmly wrote its preface and furnished the eighty pages of cantos with fifty more pages of erudite footnotes, crammed with citations to contemporary dentistry manuals.

Link to the rest at The Public Domain Review

PG notes that the OP embeds an ebook version of this seminal work, praising the mouth and its inhabitants.