John Chamberlayne wrote Letter L-406 to Leeuwenhoek about a friend’s dental problems as well as his dental hygiene practices, enclosing one of the teeth that fell out of his friend’s mouth

September 12, 1702

This letter is known only by reference in Leeuwenhoek’s reply. The date is New Style, which was eleven days ahead of the Old Style date of 1 September 1702 used by Chamberlayne in London. 

In this letter, Chamberlayne describes in detail a friend’s dental problems as well as his dental hygiene practices. He references Leeuwenhoek’s Letter 98 [53] L-184 of 4 April 1687 about elephants’ teeth. He encloses one of the teeth that fell out of his friend’s mouth and asks Leeuwenhoek not only to reply, but whether Chamberlayne can publish the reply for the benefit of mankind. He also asks a general question about what observations Leeuwenhoek has published in the previous two years.

Leeuwenhoek mentions his “53rd letter”, Letter L-186 of 4 April 1687 to the Royal Society, about elephants’ teeth and toothaches. It was not published in Philosophical Transactions, so Chamberlayne read either the manuscript (Early Letters L2.8), the English translation (Early Letters L2.9) read aloud to the Royal Society on 6 April 1687, or Leeuwenhoek’s publication of the letter in Vervolg der Brieven (1687) or in Continuatio epistolarum (1696).


The manuscript of Leeuwenhoek’s reply, Letter L-407 of 8 December 1702, is lost; all that remains is Chamberlayne’s translation, Royal Society, Early Letters L3.46.

Your letter dated from Westminster the 1st. of Septemb: 1702 did not come to my hands till the 2d. of this instant Decemb. You tell me therein that one of your good friends is troubled with the scurvy in his mouth & gums, or some other distemper no less prejudicial to the teeth than the scurvy; that he had severall times intreated you to consult me about it, which you had consented to do after having perused my 53rd letter about the structure of elephants’ teeth which I had written to the Royal Society. Moreover you tell me that your friend’s teeth were never very white nor good, & that he had never taken any care of them till after he was 20 years old, but that since that time, being sensible of the great inconveniences attending his neglect, he has always been very carefull to clean his teeth with a tooth-pick & to rinse his mouth with water after eating &c. That this has been his custom the last ten years, but in vain, for his teeth are still very foul, though freed from the tooth-ache wherewith he used to be much tormented formerly. That for several years last past he has perceived a great decay & wasting of his gums, especially of his upper teeth in the forepart of his mouth, which are now no longer red but pale, & if prickt with a pin, will yield no blood, & are quite flat & smooth, the teeth thereabout sticking out longer than the rest, one of which about a year ago dropt out whilst he was washing his mouth with water. That the same tooth was a long time very loose, & stuck out near a quarter of an inch longer than the rest, that two others are almost in as bad a condition, & if care be not taken will soon follow. That he has used several medicines to strengthen the teeth, as honey & allom, tinture of myrrh, & a water compos’d of allom & sage with which he washed his mouth every day but in vain. You add that you had almost forgotten to tell me that this gentleman never used his foreteeth in eating, & that for several years past he has drunk a great deal of tea & coffee, which some think burns the teeth, & hinders the circulation of the spirits & the nourishment which the teeth receive through their small pipes.

Your desire is that I would give you my thoughts hereupon & give you leave to publish the same not only for the advantage of your friend, but also for the benefit of all mankind. …

The tooth you sent me which fell out with washing I did not take for a very good tooth …

You desire to know of me what observations I have publisht within these two years last past.