History Of Tin Foil In The Era 1845-1895

"Besides gold, the only material which can be used with any hope of

permanent success is tin foil. Some dentists call it silver, and a

tooth which cannot be filled with it cannot be filled with anything else

so as to stop decay and make it last very long. It can be used only in

the back teeth, as its dark color renders it unsuitable for those in

front. When the general health is good, and the teeth little predisposed

decay, this metal will preserve them as effectually perhaps as gold;

but where the fluids of the mouth are much disordered it oxidizes

rapidly, and instead of preserving the teeth rather increases their

tendency to decay." (Dr. Robert Arthur, Baltimore, 1845, "A Popular

Treatise on the Diseases of the Teeth.")

The false idea that a patient must have good health, normal oral fluids,

and teeth little predisposed to decay, or else if filled with tin the

decay would be hastened, originated with a German or English author, and

has been handed down in works published since early in 1800. It even

crept into American text-books as late as 1860, the authors of which now

disbelieve it.

"Tin undergoes but little change in the mouth, and may be used with

comparative safety." ("Surgical, Mechanical, and Medical Treatment of

the Teeth," James Robinson, London, 1846.)

"Tin is soft, and can be easily and compactly introduced, but it is more

easily acted on by the secretions of the mouth than gold and is less

durable, but in the mouth of a healthy person it will last for years.

Still, inasmuch as it cannot be depended on in all cases, we are of

the opinion that it should never be employed." ("The Human Teeth,"

James Fox, London, 1846.)

The italics are ours. Every metal has a limited sphere of usefulness,

and it should not be expected that tin will contend single-handed

against all the complicated conditions which caries presents.

"Of all the cheaper materials, I consider tin the best by far, and

regard its use fully justifiable in deciduous teeth and in large

cavities, as it is not every man who can afford the expense of nine

leaves of gold and four hours of labor by a dentist on a single tooth."

(Dr. Edward Taylor, Dental Register of the West, 1847.)

"I consider tin good for any cavity in a chalky tooth: it will save them

better than anything else." (Dr. Holmes, 1848.)

"Tin can be used as a temporary filling, or as a matter of economy. It

may be rendered impervious to air and dampness, but it corrodes in most

mouths, unless it comes in contact with food in chewing, and then it

rapidly wears away; it does not become hard by packing or under

pressure, and that it forms a kind of a union with the tooth is

ridiculous." (Dr. J. D. White, 1849, Dental News Letter.)

"A tin plug will answer a very good purpose in medium and large cavities

for six years. Much imposition has been practiced with it, and it is not

made as malleable as it should and can be. An inferior article is

manufactured which possesses brilliancy and resembles silver. This is

often passed off for silver foil. No harm comes from this deception

except the loss of the amount paid above the price for tin; but even

this inferior tin foil is better than silver." ("The Practical Family

Dentist," Dewitt C. Warner, New York, 1853.)

"Tin made into leaves is employed as a stopping material; with

sufficient experience it can be elaborated into the finest lines and

cracks, and against almost the weakest walls, and teeth are sometimes

lost with gold that might have been well preserved with tin. I saw an

effective tin stopping in a tooth of Cramer's, the celebrated musical

composer, which had been placed there thirty-five years ago by Talma,

of Paris." ("The Odontalgist," by J. Paterson Clark, London, 1854.)

Refer to what the same author said in 1836.

"Tin is the best substitute for gold, and can often be used in badly

shaped cavities where gold cannot." (Prof. Harris, 1854.)

"Tin is better than any mixture of metals for filling teeth." (Professor

Tomes, London, 1859.)

In 1860 a writer said that "such a change may take place in the mouth as

to destroy tin fillings which had been useful for years, and that tin

was not entirely reliable in any case; it must not be used in a tooth

where there is another metal, nor be put in the bottom of a cavity and

covered with gold, for the tin will yield, and when fluids come in

contact with the metals, chemical action is induced, and the tin is

oxidized. Similar fillings in the same mouth may not save the teeth

equally well. Filling is predicated on the nature of decay, for only on

correct diagnosis can a proper filling-material be selected."

Reviewing the foregoing statement, we believe that a change may take

place in the mouth which will destroy gold fillings (or the

tooth-structure around them) much oftener than those of tin. It is now

every-day practice to put tin into the same tooth with another metal; if

the bottom of a cavity is filled with tin properly packed, it will not

yield when completed with gold, and if the gold is tight, the oral

fluids cannot come in contact with both metals and produce chemical

action or oxidation; similar fillings of gold in the same mouth do not

save the teeth equally well. Should we expect more of tin in this

respect, or discard it because it is not always better than gold?

In Article V of the "New Departure Creed," Dr. Flagg says, "Skillful and

scrupulous dentists fill with tin covered with gold, thereby preventing

decay, pulpitis, death of the pulp, and abscess, and thus save the


In 1862 Mr. Hockley, of London, mentions tin for filling, and the same

year Dr. Zeitman, of Germany, recommended it as a substitute for gold,

particularly for poor people.

"Is tin foil poisonous? If not, why are our brethren so reluctant to use

it? Is it nauseous? If not, why not employ it? Will it not preserve the

teeth when properly used? Then why not encourage the use of it? Does its

name signify one too common in the eyes of the people, on account of its

daily use in the tin shops, or do patients murmur when the fee is

announced, because it is nothing but tin? Is it not better than amalgam,

although the patient may believe it less costly? Eleven good plugs,

twenty-nine years old, in one mouth demonstrates that tin will last as

long as gold in many cases." (F. A. Brewer, Dental Cosmos, 1863.)

"So much tin foil is used for personal and domestic purposes that the

following is important: Ordinary tin foil by chemical analysis contained

88.93 per cent. of lead; embossed foil, 76.57 per cent.; tea foil, 88.66

per cent.; that which was sold for the pure article, 34.62 per cent. Tin

foil of above kind is made by inclosing an ingot of lead between two

ingots of tin, and rolling them out into foil, thus having the tin on

the outside of the lead." (Dr. J. H. Baldock, Dental Cosmos, 1867.)

The author used tin foil for filling the teeth of some of his

fellow-students at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery in 1867.

"Amalgam should never be used in teeth which can be filled with tin, and

most of them can be." (Dr. H. M. Brooker, Montreal, 1870.)

"I have used tin extensively, and found it more satisfactory than

amalgam. Dentists ignore tin, because it is easier to use amalgam, less

trouble. This is not right. If your preceptor has told you that amalgam

is as good as tin, and he thinks so, let him write an article in its

defense. Not one dentist in ten who has come into the profession within

the last ten years knows how to make a tin filling, and only a few of

the older ones know how to make a good one." (Dr. H. S. Chase,

Missouri Dental Journal, 1870.)

"Among the best operators a more general use of tin would produce

advantageous results, while among those whose operations in gold are not

generally successful an almost exclusive use of tin would bring about a

corresponding quantum of success to themselves and patients, as against

repeated failures with gold. The same degree of endeavor which lacked

success with gold, if applied to tin would produce good results and save

teeth. A golden shower of ducats realized for gold finds enthusiastic

admirers, but a dull gray shower for tin work is not so admirable, even

though many of the teeth were no better for the gold as gold, nor so

well off in the ultimate as with tin." (Dr. E. W. Foster, Dental

Cosmos, 1873.)

In 1873 Dr. Royal Varney said, "I am heartily in favor of tin; it is too

much neglected by our first-class operators."

"Tin stops the ends of the tubuli and interglobular spaces which are

formed in the teeth of excessive vascular organization; if more teeth

were filled with tin, and a smaller number with futile attempts with

gold, people would be more benefited." (Dr. Castle, Dental Cosmos,


"If cavities in teeth out of the mouth are well filled with tin, and put

into ink for three days, no discoloration of the tooth (when split open)

can be seen." (W. E. Driscoll, Dental Cosmos, 1874.)

"Tin makes an hermetical filling, and resists the disintegrating action

of the fluids of the mouth. If an operator can preserve teeth for

fifteen dollars with tin, which would cost fifty dollars with gold,

ought he not to do so? Upon examination of the cavities from which

oxidized plugs have been removed, these oxids will be found to have had

a reflex effect upon the dentin; the walls and floors will be discolored

and thoroughly indurated, and to a great degree devoid of sensitiveness,

although they were sensitive when filled. Tin is valuable in case of

youth, nervousness, impatience, high vitality of dentin, low

calcification, and low pecuniosity." (Dr. H. Gerhart, Pennsylvania

Journal of Dental Science, 1875.)

"Tin Foil for Filling Teeth." Essay by Dr. H. L. Ambler, read before the

Ohio State Dental Society. (Dental Register of the West, 1875.)

"Some say that if tin is the material the cavity must be filled with,

that it must be filled entirely with it, but advanced teachings show

differently." (Dr. D. D. Smith, Dental Cosmos, October, 1878.)

"Frail teeth can be saved better with tin than with gold. I never saw a

devitalized pulp under a tin filling." (Dr. Dixon, Dental Cosmos, May,


"Tin may be used as a base for proximate fillings in bicuspids or

molars, in third molars, in children's permanent molars, in the

temporary teeth, and in any cavity where the filling is not

conspicuous." (Dr. A. W. Harlan, Independent Practitioner, 1884.)

"Tin in blocks, mats, and tapes is used like non-cohesive gold foil, but

absence of cohesion prevents the pieces from keeping their place as well

as the gold." ("American System of Dentistry," 1887.)

This is virtually saying that there is cohesion of non-cohesive gold,

and that for this reason it keeps its place better than tin. It has

always been supposed that there was no cohesion of layers of

non-cohesive gold, and as the tin is used on the non-cohesive plan,

therefore one keeps its place as well as the other. We claim that

generally in starting a filling, tin will keep its place better than

cohesive or non-cohesive gold, because it combines some of the

cohesiveness of the former with the adaptability of the latter.

"Tin will save teeth in many cases as well or better than gold. Put a

mat of tin at the cervical wall of proximate cavities in molars and

bicuspids, and it makes a good filling which has a therapeutic effect on

tooth-structure that prevents the recurrence of caries, probably because

the infiltration of tin oxid into the tubuli is destructive to animal

life. Where the filling is not exposed to mechanical force, there is no

material under heavens which will preserve the teeth better." (Dr.

Beach, Dental Cosmos, 1889.)

"I extracted a tooth in which I found a cavity of decay which had

extended toward a tin filling, but stopped before reaching it; on

examining the tooth-structure between the new cavity and the tin

filling, it was found to be very hard, indicating apparently that there

had been some action produced by the presence of the tin." (Dr. G.

White, Dental Cosmos, 1889.)

"Pure tin in form of foil is used as a filling and also in connection

with non-cohesive gold." (Mitchell's "Dental Chemistry," 1890.)

"Tin ranks next to gold as a filling-material." (Essig's "Dental

Metallurgy," 1893.)

"Tin is good for children's teeth, when gold or amalgam is not

indicated. It can be used in cavities which are so sensitive to thermal

changes as to render the use of gold or amalgam unwise, but it can only

be used in cavities with continuous walls, and should be introduced in

the form of cylinders or ropes, with wedge-shaped pluggers having sharp

deep serrations, thus depending upon the wedging or interdigitating

process to hold the filling in the cavity." ("Operative Technics," Prof.

T. E. Weeks, 1895.)

"Tin for filling teeth has been almost superseded by amalgam, although

among the older practitioners (those who understand how to manipulate

it) tin is considered one of the best, if not the very best metal known

for preserving the teeth from caries. In consequence of its lack of the

cohesive property, it is introduced and retained in a cavity upon the

wedging principle, the last piece serving as a keystone or anchor to the

whole filling. Each piece should fill a portion of the cavity from the

bottom to the top, with sufficient tin protruding from the cavity to

serve for thorough condensation of the surface, and the last piece

inserted should have a retaining cavity to hold it firmly in place. The

foil is prepared by folding a whole or half-sheet and twisting it into a

rope, which is then cut into suitable lengths for the cavity to be

filled." (Frank Abbott, "Dental Pathology and Practice," 1896.)

"Forty-three years ago, for a young lady fourteen years of age, I

filled with non-cohesive gold all the teeth worth filling with this

metal; the rest I filled with tin. Three years after that there was not

a perfect gold filling among the whole number, and yet the tin fillings

were just as good as when made. The explanation as to why the tin

fillings lasted so much longer than the gold ones was, that there must

have been something in the tin that had an affinity for the teeth and

the elements that formed the dentin, by which some compound was formed,

or else it must have been in the adaptation." (Dr. H. Gerhart, Dental

Cosmos, January, 1897.)