The forgotten contribution of J. E. Purkyně to dentistry

Keywords: History of dentistry, Raschkow, subodontoblastic plexus, teeth


Objectives: the name of Jan Evangelista Purkyně (Purkinje in German), born in Bohemia in 1787 and died in Prague in 1869, is mainly associated with discoveries in histology and specialist fields of Medicine like embriology, histological techniques, ophthalmology, cardiology and neurophysiology. This short article presents a brief account of his life, commemorates his achievements in biology and medicine but also in in the politics and literature of his Country (he was elected to the Diet of Bohemia but also he composed poems and important translations from German, French and Italian languages into Czech) and examines in depth his contribution to Dentistry. Materials and Methods: Purkyně’s major contributions to Dentistry, which focused on embryology and dental histology, endodontics and periodontology, are traced to two dissertations in Latin which were discussed by his pupils (Meyer Fraenkel and Isaac Raschkow), at Breslau University in 1835: we present a brief summary of each, with the major innovative findings highlighted. Results: the two dissertations contain remarkable, though often overlooked, contributions to Dentistry. Among these we can indicate the individuation of: the dental cement (substantia ostoidea), the acquired dental pellicle, the nature of optical illusion of Hunter-Schreger lines, the “enamel pulp” from which the enamel would evolve, the sub-odontoblastic nervous plexus which is the cause of tooth sensitivity, the predentine, the organic nature of the process of enamel formation, the dentine and enamel  formation in opposing directions, the presence of alveolus membrane (id est: the periodontium). Conclusions: after reviewing the main innovations these two dissertations made to Dentistry, Purkyně’s personal share in both is very clear. Both the two his pupils acknowledged their debt to Purkyně and also famous contemporary Purkinje scientists such as Alexander Nasmyth, Sir Richard Owen, Sir James Paget had no doubt he is had generated the ideas expressed in the two little treatises.


Download data is not yet available.


Anonymous. (1870). Johann Evangelista Purkinje – obituary. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 19, IX-XII.

Cox, C. F., Yamaguchi, H., Suzuki, S., Akimoto, N., Ruby, J. D., Maeda, N., & Momoi, Y. (2017). How histology enriched endodontics as a specialty & nurtured pulp biology: our endodontic continuum from 1528 into the 1900’s – Part I. Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Research, 6, 1–9.

Cavero, I., Guillon, J. M., & Holzgrefe, H. H. (2017). Reminiscing about Jan Evangelista Purkinje: a pioneer of modern experimental physiology. Advances in Physiology Education, 41(4), 528–538.

Davies, M. K., & Hollman, A. (1996). Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787–1869). Heart, 76(4), 311.

Eiselt, T. (1859). Purkyněs Arbeiten. Eine literarhistorische Skizze (1818–1859). Vierteljahrschrift fur die Praktische Heilkunde, 16(3), 1–20.

Foster, B. L. (2017). On the discovery of cementum. Journal of Periodontal Research is, 52(4), 666–685.

Fraenkel, M. (1835). De penitiori dentium humanorum structura observations. Pressburg: Diss Vratislaviae.

Grätzer, J. (1889). Lebensbilder hervorragender schlesischer Ärzte aus den letzten vier Jahrhunderten. Breslau: Schottlaender.

Henry, J. J. (1953). Jan Evangelista Purkyně Czech scientist and patriot (1787–1869). Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 46(11), 933–940.

Jay, V. (2000). The extraordinary career of Dr. Purkinje. Archives of pathology & laboratory medicine, 124(5), 662‒663.;2

Haas, L. F. (1994). Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787–1869). Journal of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry, 57(7), 777.

Nasmyth, A. (1839). Researches on the developement, structure, and diseases of the teeth. London: Churchill.

Owen, R. (1840). Odontography or a treatise on the comparative anatomy of the teeth; their physiological relations, mode of development, and microscopic structure, in the vertebrate animals. London: Bailliere.

Paget, J. (1842). Report on the chief results obtained by the use of the microscope in the study of human anatomy and physiology. London: Churchill.

Posner E. (1969). J. Evangelista Purkynĕ (1787-1869). British medical journal, 3(5662), 107–109.

Purkinje, J. E. (1919–1985). Opera omnia (Sebrané spisy) (Vol. 1-13). Praha: Academia.

Purkinje, J. E. (1819). Beiträge zur Kenntniss des Sehens in subjectiver Hinsicht. Dissertation, Prague.

Purkinje, J. E. (1820). Beiträge zur näheren Kenntnis des Schwindels aus heautognostischen Daten. Medizinische Jahrbüchern des Oesterreichisches Staates, 6(2), 79–125.

Purkinje, J. E. (1823). Commentatio de examine physiologico organi visus. Vratislaviae: W. Junk.

Purkinje, J. E. (1825). Beobachtungen und Versuche zur Physiologie der Sinne. Neue Beiträge zur Kenntniss des Sehens in subjektiver Hinsicht. Berlin: G. Reimer.

Purkinje, J. E. (1830a). Symbolae ad ovi avium historiam ante incubationem. Lipsiae: L. Voss.

Purkinje, J. E. (1830b). De cellulis antherarum fibrosis, nec non De grano rum pollinarium formis, commentatio phytotomica. Vratislaviae: J. D. Gruson.

Purkinje, J. E., & Valentin, G. G. (1835). De phaenomeno generali et fundamentali Motus vibratorii continui in membranis cum externis tum internis animalium plurimorum et superiorum et inferiorum ordinum obvii. Wratislaviae: L. Freund.

Purkinje, J. E., & Pappenheim S. (1838). Vorläufige Mittheilungen aus einer Untersuchung über künstliche Verdauung. Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und Wissenschaftliche Medicin, 1–14.

Purkinje, J. E. (1834). Der microtomische Quetscher, ein bei microscopischen Untersuchungen unentbehrliches Instrument. Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und Wissenschaftliche Medicin, 385–391.

Raschkow, I. (1835). Meletemata circa mammalium dentium evolutionem. Vratislaviae: M. Friedlaender.

Schweitzer, P. (1991). Jan Evangelista Purkinje (Purkině). Clinical cardiology, 14(1), 85–86.

Sykora, O. (1988). Jan Evangelista Purkynĕ (1787–1869): physiologist, literary figure, statesman and pioneer dental morphologist. Bulletin of the history of dentistry, 36(1), 1–7.

Szpilczynski, S. (1971). Johann Evangelista Purkyně’s contribution to the advance of the natural science and medicine. Organon, 8, 199–205.

Vilímek, J. (1887). Jan Ev. Purkyně. Zlatá Praha, 4(37), 581.

Wade, N. J., & Brožek, J. (2001). Purkinje's vision: The dawning of neuroscience. London: Psychology Press.

Abstract views: 355
PDF Downloads: 179
How to Cite
Eramo, S., Barraco, G., & Zampetti, P. (2020). The forgotten contribution of J. E. Purkyně to dentistry. History of Science and Technology, 10(2), 281-292.