The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Skull with Tooth Abscesses

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Skull with Tooth Abscesses


Medical History, 19th Cent.


Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, but it can become damaged. Without proper dental care, tooth decay can lead to an abscess, a pocket of pus that builds up in the soft pulp inside the tooth due to a bacterial infection. The infection can spread from the tooth root to the bones surrounding the tooth, a condition known as osteomyelitis (bone infection). The holes above and below this man’s damaged teeth were probably caused in this way.

The man had one severe tooth abscess on his upper left medial incisor (front tooth) and another on his lower right second premolar or bicuspid, on the side of his jaw. He may have been poor and unable to afford dental care, or perhaps he was afraid of going to the dentist. He was probably in a lot of pain and would have had difficulty eating. We can’t be certain how he died, but the dental infections could have been a factor. Modern dentistry has helped to reduce severe infections like these, but they do still occur.

The skull, which shows that the man had a narrow face and prominent features, came from the collection of Matthew Henry Cryer, MD, DDS (1840–1921). Cryer was a professor of oral surgery at the University of Pennsylvania who specialized in the anatomy of the head and face. The jaw is attached to the skull with springs, and the top part of the skull is cut off, allowing examination of the interior.


M. H. Cryer Anatomical Collection


Digitized by the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia






Late 19th or early 20th century

Original Format

Bone, metal hooks and springs


“Skull with Tooth Abscesses,” The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library, accessed September 20, 2021,