The disease first appeared in Victorian times and affected match workers exposed to white phosphorus. It was first recorded in 1839 in Vienna as phosphorus necrosis or phossy jaw. Back in 1852, the celebrated Charles Dickens in his weekly periodical Household Words reported three phosphorus necrosis cases including a 21-year-old match worker, about whom he wrote, “He has now no teeth in his lower jaw, of which a great part is destroyed.”
The disease was painful and could affect both the upper and lower jaws. The most distinctive feature was the exposed necrotic jawbone, accompanied by loose teeth, swollen gum, bleeding, pus discharge and jaw fracture. In severe cases, the disease could spread and cause facial disfigurement.
- Dickens, Charles. 1852. “One of the Evils of Match-making.” Household Words 5 (110) (May): 152-155.