Dentistry and Islam

September 23, 2009 |  Tagged , , , | Leave a Comment


Muslim dentists were pioneers in dentistry, particularly dental surgery and dental restoration. The earliest medical text to deal with dental surgery in detail was the Al-Tasrif by Abulcasis. He gave detailed methods for the successful replantation of dislodged teeth.

Another 10th century Arab dentist, Abu Gaafar Amed ibn Ibrahim ibn abi Halid al-Gazzar, from North Africa, described methods of dental restoration in his Kitab Zad al-Musafir wa qut al-Hadir (Provision for the traveler and nutrition for the sedentary), which was later translated into Latin as Viaticum by Constantine the African in Salerno. He provided the earliest treatment for dental caries:

“With caries purging must take place first, and then the teeth can be filled with gallnut, dyer’s, buckthorn, terbinth resine, cedar resine, myrrh, pellitory and honey, or fumigated with colocynthisroot.”

Al-Gazzar also recommended arsenic compound in his prescription for holes in the teeth, as well as against dental caries, loosening, and relaxing of the nerves as a result of too manyfluids.

Avicenna dedicated many chapters of The Canon of Medicine to dentistry, particularly dental restoration. Influenced by al-Gazzar, he provided his own treatment for dental caries, stating that carious teeth should be filled with cypress, grass, mastix, myrrh, or styrax, among others, with gallnut, yellow sulfur, pepper, camphor, and with drugs for pain relief, like arsenic orwolf’s milk. He further stated that arsenic boiled in oil should be dripped into the carious defect.

Both Avicenna and al-Gazzar, however, believed that dental caries were caused by “tooth worms” like what the ancients believed. This was proven false in 1200 by another Muslim physician named Gaubari in his Book of the Elite concerning the unmasking of mysteries and tearing of veils which dedicated a chapter to dentistry. He was the first to reject the idea of caries being caused by tooth worms, and he stated that tooth worms in fact do not even exist. The theory of the tooth worm was thus no longer accepted in the Islamic medical community from the 13th century onwards.


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