History Of The Use Of Tin Foil Pre 1850

The largest and most complete dental library in the world is owned by

Dr. H. J. McKellops, of St. Louis. Upon his cheerful invitation, the

writer visited that "Mecca," and through his kindness and assistance a

complete search was made, which resulted in obtaining a great portion of

the following historical facts with reference to the use of tin in


"In 1783 I stopped a considerable decay in a la
ge double under tooth,

on the outside of the crown or near the gums, with fine tin foil, which

lasted for a good number of years." ("A Practical and Domestic Treatise

on Teeth and Gums," by Mr. Sigmond, Bath, England, 1825.)

"Fine tin foil or gold leaf may be injected into a cavity successfully,

and retained securely for many years." (Joseph Fox, Dover, England,


"The statement has been made several times that tin foil was used in the

United States for filling teeth as early as 1800, at which time

dentistry began to be cultivated particularly as a science and art, and

was beginning to be regarded as of more importance than it formerly had

been. The writer has not found any record of its use in this country

earlier than 1809. Tin may often be employed with entire confidence. I

have seen fillings forty-one years old (made in 1809) and still perfect.

Several molars had four or five plugs in them, which had been inserted

at different periods during the last half-century. I prefer strips cut

from six sheets laid upon each other. If the foil is well connected, the

cut edges will adhere firmly; if they do not, the foil is not fit for

use." (Dr. B. T. Whitney, Dental Register of the West, 1850.) First

reference to the fact that tin is adhesive.

"Tin is desirable in all unexposed cavities. It has a stronger affinity

for acetic, citric, tartaric, malic, lactic, and nitric acids than the

tooth has: a good material where the secretions are of an acid

character, it is better that the filling should waste away than the

tooth. One cavity in my mouth was filled with gold, decay occurred, the

filling was removed; cavity filled with oxychlorid, which produced pain;

filling removed; cavity filled with gutta-percha, still experienced

pain; filling removed; cavity filled with tin, and pain ceased in an

hour. A tin filling was shown in New York which was sixty years old;

made in 1811." (Dr. E. A. Bogue, British Journal of Dental Science,


"I have lately been removing tin pluggings (the juices of the mouth

having oxidated and dissolved away the metal, so as to expose the teeth

to decay) from teeth which I plugged fifteen years ago (1818) for the

purpose of re-stopping with gold, and have in almost every instance

found the bone of the tooth at the bottom of the pluggings perfectly

sound and protected from decay." (J. R. Spooner, Montreal, 1833.)

In 1800 the number of dentists in the United States was about one

hundred, and many of them were using tin foil for filling teeth.

In 1822 tin was employed by the best dentists, with hardly an exception;

it grew in favor, especially for large cavities in molars, and for a

cheaper class of operations than gold, but tin was not generally used

until 1830. ("History of Dental and Oral Science in America.")

"Lead, tin, and silver corrode and become more injurious than the

original disease, and will in every case ultimately prove the cause of

destruction to the tooth, which might have been preserved by proper

treatment." (Leonard Koecker, 1826, and "New System of Treating the

Human Teeth," by J. Paterson Clark, London, 1829 and 1830.)

"Tin in situations out of reach of friction in mastication, as between

two teeth, is like the tooth itself apt to be decomposed by acidity

unless kept very clean." ("Practical and Familiar Treatise on Teeth and

Dentism," J. Paterson Clark, London, 1836.) Refer to what the same

author said in 1829.

"Tin is used as a plugging material." ("The Anatomy, Physiology, and

Diseases of the Teeth," by Thomas Bell, F.R.S., London, 1829.)

"Silver and tin foil, although bright when first put in a cavity, very

soon change to a dark hue, resembling the decayed parts of the teeth

which are of a bluish cast; besides this, they are not sufficiently pure

to remain in an unchanged state, and frequently they assist in the

destruction of a tooth instead of retarding it." ("Familiar Treatise on

the Teeth," by Joseph Harris, London, 1830.)

"Tin is objectionable on account of rapid oxidation and being washed by

the saliva into the stomach, as it may materially disorder it; the

filling becomes so reduced that the cavity in which it has been inserted

will no longer retain it, and acid fruits influence galvanic action."

("Every Man his Own Dentist," Joseph Scott, London, 1833.)

In 1836 Dr. Diaz, of Jamaica, used tin foil for filling teeth.

"Gold is now preferred, though tin, from its toughness when in the leaf,

is perhaps the most suitable. Americans are superior to British in

filling." ("Plain Advice on Care of the Teeth," Dr. A. Cameron, Glasgow,


In 1838 Archibald McBride, of Pittsburg, Pa., used tin for filling

cavities of decay.

The following facts were learned from Dr. Corydon Palmer: E. E. Smith,

who had been a student of John and William Birkey, in Philadelphia, came

to Warren, Ohio, in 1839, and among other things made the first gold

plate in that part of the country. In operating on the anterior teeth,

he first passed a separating file between them, excavated the cavity,

and prepared the foil, tin or gold, in tapes which were cut

transversely, every eighth of an inch, about three-quarters of the way

across. Fig. 1 shows the size of tape and the manner of cutting. With an

instrument (Fig. 2) he drew the foil in from the labial surface, using

such portion of the tape as desired.

The instrument from which the illustration was made was furnished by Dr.

Palmer, and is shown full size. Instruments for use on posterior teeth

were short and strong, with as few curves as possible; no right and left

cutters or pluggers were used, and none of the latter were serrated, but

had straight, tapering round points, flat on the ends, and of suitable

size to fill a good portion of the cavity. He used what was termed

Abbey's chemically pure tin foil, forcing it in hard, layer upon

layer,--as he expressed it, "smacked it up." In this manner he made tin

fillings that lasted more than thirty years.

In 1839 Dr. Corydon Palmer filled teeth with tin foil, also lined

cavities with gold and filled the remainder with tin. In the same year

he filled crown (occlusal) cavities one-half full with tin and the other

half with gold, allowing both metals to come to the surface, on the same

plan that many proximal cavities are now filled. (See Fig. 3, showing

about one-half of the cavity nearly completed with tin cylinders. The

same plan was followed when strips, or ropes, were used.)

"I filled cavities about two-thirds full with tin, and finished with

gold." (S. S. Stringfellow, American Journal of Dental Science, 1839.)

"Tin foil is greatly used by some American dentists, but it is not much

better than lead leaf." ("Surgical, Operative, and Mechanical

Dentistry," L. Charles De Londe, London, 1840.)

"In 1841 there were about twelve hundred dentists in the United States,

many of whom were using tin, and there are circumstances under which it

may be used not only with impunity, but advantage, but it is liable to

change." (Harris.)

"I put in tin fillings, and at the end of thirty years they were badly

worn, but there was no decay around the margins." (Dr. Neall, 1843.)

In 1843 Dr. Amos Westcott, of Syracuse, N. Y., filled the base of large

cavities with tin, completing the operation with gold.

"Tin is used in the form of little balls, or tubes, but folds are

better; introduce the metal gradually, taking care to pack it so that it

will bear equally upon all points; the folds superimpose themselves one

upon the other; thus we obtain a successive stratification much more

exact and dense, and it is impossible there can be any void." ("Theory

and Practice of Dental Surgery," J. Lefoulon, Paris, 1844.)