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History books

These are all available for loan from the BDA library.

More information about borrowing is available on our Loans page.

Dental health advice from a British Navy surgeon

New to the library is a reprint of Every Lady and Gentleman Their own Dentist, as far as the Operations Will Allow. Containing the Natural History of the Adult Teeth and Their Diseases.: With the most Approved Methods of Prevention and Cure. Also, Those of the Gums, &c. To which is added, Dentition, and Treatment of Children at that Period.

The original book was written by British navy surgeon, Dr Francis Brockell Spilsbury (not to be confused with his son, also in the navy and with the same name!) in 1791.

He went on to write a number of other publications including memoirs of his naval campaigns.



Dental history ebooks



Lists by subject

General history Email a request to borrow a book on general dental history
Military dental history Email a request to borrow a book on military dental history
Dental schools, association and societies Email a request to borrow a book on dental schools, association or societies
Dental biography and autobiography Email a request to borrow a dental biography or autobiography
Dental instruments Email a request to borrow a book on the history of dental instruments


Rare book collection

The BDA library has a large collection of rare books from the 16th to the 20th centuries. A catalogue of the collection as it existed then was produced in 1964 and may be viewed here. Since then the 20th century collection has expanded and book records for these and some of the older rare books exist on our online catalogue along with links to full text versions where available.

Researchers may visit the library with prior permission. 

A comic gem from our rare book collection

The Toothache: imagined by Horace Mayhew and realized by George Cruikshank (1849) 

This is a tiny book with a long panoramic sheet showing a series of hand drawn colour illustrations depicting a comical story of a man with a tooth-ache. He tries different methods to cure himself and then finally chooses to go to a dentist.


Interestingly, this tiny book is one of the few sources to show how the “armchair” style of dentist’s chair favoured at the time was actually used in a practice. As can be seen here, the dentist stood at the back of the chair on a box in order to be able to look over into the patient’s mouth.



The dentist depicted in these illustrations may possibly be Samuel Cartwright, junior who, at this time, was practicing in London in Sackville Street, just off Piccadilly. He was later to become Charles Dickens’ dentist and was certainly acquainted with George Cruikshank. 

The latter, at least in 1843, was in the Literary Fund Society with Cartwright’s well-known dentist father, also Samuel Cartwright.

Horace Mayhew (1816–1872) was a London born playwright, journalist and a writer. He wrote a considerable number of farces and tales, and contributed to journalism becoming a frequent contributor to Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper

According to the Dictionary of National Biography he was apparently a "handsome, captivating man, a brilliant talker and raconteur, and was very popular in society." He married late in life in around 1869 and died only three years later on 30 April 1872 of the "rupture of a blood-vessel".

George Cruikshank (27 September 1792 – 1 February 1878) was a British caricaturist and book illustrator. Famous for his illustrations for his friend Charles Dickens, and many other authors, he reached an international audience. Indeed, the version of The Toothache in the BDA Library's collection has a price of 15 cents on the cover so is probably American or Canadian.


If you are a BDA member and  would like to see a list of our books on a particular aspect of dental history please email library@bda.org and we will prepare one for you.

Alternatively if you would like a list of articles on any dental topic then as a BDA member you can request a free literature search from us.