Leonardo da Vinci, the Greatest Dentist of All Time


I’m currently making my way though Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci, as I noted back in November.

In a section titled The Skull Drawings, Isaacson touched upon a point that I’ve been unable to stop thinking about since. The drawings, which Leonardo did in 1489, show a human in various cross-sectioned forms. In one of the drawings Leonardo worked with a skull that had been sawed in half, top to bottom, then the front of the left half was sawed off, making it easy, Isaacson notes, to see how the inner cavities were positioned relative to the face.

To the left of the face Leonardo drew each of the four types of human teeth, with a note saying that a human typically has thirty-two, including the wisdom teeth. With this, as far as is now known, he became the first person in history to describe fully the human dental elements, including a depiction of the roots that is almost perfect.

The point Isaacson then made was that if there were not so much else to remember him for, Leonardo could have been celebrated as a pioneer of dentistry. Just think of that! Here is one of the most famous painters, architects, and—many could reasonably argue—scientists of all time, yet if all that was stripped away, he still would have likely been celebrated within another field.

Now that I’m feeling suitably under-accomplished, I’ll get back to the book. ∎


Benjamin Spall is the founding editor of the online magazine My Morning Routine, and the co-author of a book of the same name. He has written for outlets including the New York Times, the New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and more.

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