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"For when her parted lips disclosed to view / Those ruined arches, veiled in ebon hue" - Solyman Brown's Dentologia

Dentologia
The title page.
The flowery beginning.
The dire warnings begin.
Dental chaos.
1 of 1

National Poetry Month is making its exit from our calendars, so we will pay it a fond farewell with Solyman Brown’s Dentologia: A Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth, and Their Proper Remedies.  For who among us has not at one point contemplated our mouths’ cavern of horrors and thought, “Now that is the stuff of poetry”?

Solyman Brown certainly did.  Brown (1790-1896) began his professional life as a Christian minister, specifically in the Swedenborgian movement; however, in 1832 his friend Eleazar Parmly lured him into dentistry.  Brown embraced his new calling with enthusiasm.  He was the inaugural secretary of the American Society of Dental Surgeons – the first national dental organization in the United States – and also served as editor of the first American dental periodical, the American Journal of Dental Science.  He contributed several articles to the publication, especially on mechanical dentistry and the prevention of oral diseases, and his obituary in the Dental Cosmos says that he, “was a polished gentleman, a finished scholar, a writer of ability, both in prose and poetry, and an author of many published works.”

Brown was a true devotee to the dental profession, but throughout his life he maintained a deep love for poetic verse.  He combined these two great interests in 1833 with the publication of his epic poem Dentologia.  For Brown, this was no lighthearted piece of satire – this was serious business.  The poem is written in the classic epic style, complete with invocations to classical deities, moral advice, and plenty of drama.  It is in all likelihood the greatest poetic tribute to dentistry that has ever been written.

Dentologia actually received some favorable reviews on its publication.  In Vol. 15 of the American Quarterly Review, Robert Walsh said, “The attempt to elicit poetry out of such a subject as diseased teeth, certainly shows a bold and intrepid spirit; and the success which has attended the enterprise, proves the adventurer to be possessed of an extraordinary share of adroitness in moulding to his purpose the most unaccommodating materials… What a task, to turn a medical treatise into poetry!  And what dexterity to succeed in the attempt!”  An appreciation for his unconventional subject matter did not, however, prevent Kathryn and Ross Petras from including the Dentologia in their anthology Very Bad Poetry.

We’ve included a few scans of our copy of the Dentologia to pique your interest, but if you’re interested you can read the complete masterpiece at your leisure here.

 

Biographical information from:  Martin E. Ring.  "The hidden poetry of Solyman Brown, the 'poet laureate of dentistry'."  Journal of the History of Dentistry.  50(2): 77-82.

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