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Gutta-Percha.—Gutta-Percha.

Preparation: Solution of Gutta-Percha
Related entry: Mimusops globosa

The concrete juice of Isonandra Gutta, Hooker (Dichopsis Gutta, Bentley), and other species of the same order.
Nat. Ord.—Sapotaceae.
COMMON NAMES: Gutta-percha, Gutta-taban, Gutta-percha depurata, Gummi-plasticum.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 167.

Botanical Source.—This is the concrete milky juice of a tall tree, a native of the Malayan Archipelago, especially of Singapore, where it is now becoming rapidly extinguished through ruthlessness in collecting gutta-percha. It has a straight and lofty trunk, about 3 feet in diameter at the base, with numerous ascending branches; the terminal buds are white from exuding gutta. The wood is hard; the leaves crowded at the extremity of the branches, alternate, petiolate, oblong, with a small point at the apex, base tapering, 4 or 6 inches long, 2 inches broad, upper surface bright-green, feather-nerved, under surface brownish-red, from dense pubescence; the midrib and petiole the same; the petiole 1 inch long, channeled, not articulated with the stem. Stipules none. The flowers are axillary, sessile, 4 together, disposed in a quadrangular manner, small and white. Bracts none. Calyx persistent, 6 sepals, brownish-red, in a double series, the outer largest; aestivation valvate. The corolla is monopetalous, 6-cleft, the lobes 1/4 of an inch long, tubes 1/2 an inch and deciduous; aestivation twisted. Stamens 12, in a single series, equal, similar, and inserted in the mouth of the tube. The filaments are equal in length to the lobes of the corolla; the anthers sagittate, extrorse, and affixed by their base to the filaments; the pollen scanty. The ovary is superior, conical, sessile, seated on a disk, 6-celled, each cell containing a single ovule Suspended from a central axis; the funiculus is conspicuous. Style longer than the stamens and persistent; stigmas undivided (E. White).

History and Description.—This substance was introduced in 1842 to the profession, by Dr. William Montgomerie, a surgeon in the British army in the Indies. The natives cut down the tree, remove its bark, and collect the milky juice in conic receptacles made from the spathe of the Areca palm. The juice soon concretes upon exposure to the air. The product is then put into a pot with water warmed to 70° C. (158° F.) and kneaded, which removes particles of wood and bark, this process being repeated several times until a uniform mass is obtained. It has been stated that the yield from one tree is 20 to 30 pounds, but according to data given by Prof. Tschirch (Indische Heil und Nutzpflanzen, 1892, p. 203) this must be an exaggeration. Dr. Burck, in Buitenzorg (Java), has shown that by making incisions in living trees 1400 grammes of gutta may be obtained annually, and that this yield may be maintained during a period of 3 or 4 years. As imported it contains various foreign matters from which it should be freed before using it. It is a white or dirty pinkish opaque solid, having a faint odor, no taste, and hardens at 15.5° C. (60° F.). Water, alcohol, alkaline solutions, hydrochloric and acetic acids, and fixed oils have no action on it. It is soluble in coal naphtha, oil of turpentine, benzol, chloroform, boiling ether, and bisulphide of carbon. Hot water softens it, and a heat of 71.1° C. (1601 F.) renders it adhesive and pliable; when soft it may be easily cut or molded into various shapes—a temperature of 65° to 60° C. (120° to 128° F.) being the most favorable for this purpose. It resembles caoutchouc, and like this substance, has the property of combining with sulphur, and is thus capable of being vulcanized for use in the arts (see Elastica). Its specific gravity is 0.979. Gutta-percha, when in contact with air for some time, oxidizes and undergoes a peculiar change, becoming brittle and ultimately losing all coherence. In this process formic acid is liberated. The oxidized substance is soluble in cold alcohol. This change does not take place when gutta-percha is kept under water. It is a better insulator for electric wires and cables than caoutchouc, and is employed for insulating purposes in large quantities.

Chemical Composition.—When gutta-percha, according to Payen (1852), is purified by kneading in warm water, dried, and treated with hot absolute alcohol a hydrocarbon, gutta (75 to 82 per cent) remains. From the hot solution an oxygen compound, alban (14 to 16 per cent), falls out upon cooling, while another oxygen compound, fluavil (4 to 6 per cent), remains in solution. To these constituents Otto Oesterle, in Prof. Tschirch's laboratory (Archiv der Pharm., 1892, p. 641), added guttane, an unstable, thread-like body resembling gutta. Crude gutta-percha of commerce also contains tannin, salts and saccharine substances. No volatile oil could be identified.

Gutta determines the elasticity of gutta-percha, and its plasticity at elevated temperatures. It is a white, amorphous hydrocarbon of the formula (C10H16)n (Oesterle); C20H32 (Oudemans, Baumhauer); (C4H7)n (Payen), etc., insoluble in alcohol and cold ether, little soluble in benzol and oil of turpentine, easily soluble in carbon disulphide and chloroform. It melts at 53° C. (127.4° F.) (Oesterle) and absorbs oxygen rapidly, whereby formic acid is liberated (Payen). Exposed to air and light pure gutta becomes yellow, friable, and partly soluble in alcohol, caustic potash and benzol.

Alban is a light powder, riot dissolved by water, diluted acids or alkalies, dissolves in boiling, but not in cold, absolute alcohol; readily soluble in ether, chloroform, carbon disulphide, benzol, and oil of turpentine. It has the composition C40H64O2 (Oesterle), yielding a hydrocarbon, alben, by heating with alcoholic potassa. It melts at 195° C. (383° F.). The presence of alban does not seem to have any harmful effect upon the technical properties of gutta-percha.

Fluavil is a lemon-yellow, amorphous body, having the composition (C10H16O)n (Oesterle), melting between 82° and 85° C. (179.6° and 185° F. but becoming soft at a much lower temperature. When it occurs in gutta in larger quantities it renders this article brittle. Fluavil is more soluble in the solvents mentioned than the other constituents. Whether alban and fluavil are decomposition products of gutta, was not determined.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Gutta-percha serves several useful ends in medicine, surgery, and pharmacy, and is likewise used for ornamental and various other purposes. Splints, etc., have been made of it, and employed in cases of fractures, diseased joints, and other cases where it is desired to keep the parts in a permanent position, and it is also formed into bougies, injection pipes, catheters, pessaries, specula, forceps, handles, etc. Its pliability after having been immersed into hot water renders it especially adapted for the preparation of splints, and such splints are preferable to carved wooden splints. The solution in bisulphide of carbon has been employed by M. Vogel in wounds effected by cutting instruments—the fluid evaporates with great rapidity, and leaves a thin layer which protects the wound from atmospheric action, at the same time keeping its edges in close contact. The following compound is recommended for the hemorrhage supervening the extraction of teeth: Take of gutta-percha, 1 ounce; best tar, 1 1/2 ounces; creosote, 1 drachm; shellac, 1 ounce. Boil these in a crucible, stirring or beating them well, until they are blended into a stiff, homogeneous mass. The compound is readily softened between the fingers, and is easily introduced into the bleeding socket. It must be pressed in, and the hemorrhage will be speedily checked. For dental purposes solution of gutta-percha is purified by agitating it with calcium sulphate. Mixed with silica, powdered glass, zinc oxide, and similar mineral substances, to give hardness and the proper consistence, it is largely used by dentists to fill the cavities of carious teeth. Mr. Aiton recommends the following preparation, applied to the skin in the same manner as collodion, as a protection against poisonous or deleterious vapors or fluids: Add 30 grains of gutta-percha to 1/2 an ounce of benzene, and expose to a moderate heat; when the gutta-percha is dissolved, add to it a solution of 5 grains of caoutchouc dissolved in 1/2 ounce of benzene (benzol). A clear solution of gutta-percha may be made by adding to the solution a mixture of 2/3 of a part of finely powdered carbonate of lead in 2 parts of chloroform; agitating the whole 2 or 3 times, and then allowing the mixture to stand 10 or 12 days. The carbonate of lead, in becoming deposited, carries with it coloring and insoluble matters; the clear solution should then be decanted and placed in 1/2 fluid ounce vials, with closely-fitting glass stoppers (see Liquor Gutta-perchae). This will be found very valuable as a local application to irritated and abraded surfaces, chaps, small wounds, etc., as it forms a kind of cuticle over the parts.

Dr. Maunoury recommends mixing 2 parts of chloride of zinc with 1 part of powdered gutta-percha, in a tube or porcelain dish, and gently beating the mixture over a lamp. The gutta-percha softens, the particles cohere in a spongy mass, which retains the chloride of zinc, and may be made into any convenient shape, which it retains on cooling. This he recommends as a manageable caustic, as it retains its consistence and flexibility, and can be easily inserted into the urethra, nostrils, fistulous or other passages, and, by its porosity, permits the exudation of the caustic, and thus opens a free passage for the result of the action of the caustic on the tissues. Other caustics or agents may be applied in the same way. Chrysarobin is well applied with solution of gutta-percha.

It has been extolled by dermatologists as an efficient application in certain skin affections, to prevent access of air and the formation of crusts, to lessen the quantity of secretions, and to limit the action of the medicaments employed. It has thus been employed in smallpox (to prevent pitting), in erysipelas, psoriasis, herpes tonsurans, prurigo, and certain eczemas.

Prof. J. M. Maisch proposed the following solution as preferable to collodion, in having no gloss or contractile power, and in its close resemblance to the skin: Take 1 part of the best commercial gutta-percha, cut it into small pieces, and, by agitation, dissolve it in 12 parts of chloroform; on standing for a day, all the coloring matter rises like a scum to the surface, leaving the solution clear; this may then be easily drawn off to the last drop. A wide glass tube, narrower at the bottom, and so arranged that both ends may be closed by corks, is the only instrument necessary; after the separation is complete, the upper cork must be removed, and the lower one loosened so as to allow the liquid to run out slowly. Gutta-percha is acted upon by the strong mineral acids, but not by sea water, alkalies, vegetable acids, or weak mineral acids, hence gutta-percha vessels are highly valuable.

Related Products and Preparation.—Several guttas, some of which are closely allied to caoutchouc, are used to adulterate gutta-percha, among which may be mentioned the following: Gutta-soo-soo—two kinds—one from Perek, the other, a caoutchouc, from Borneo, Gutta-singgarip, Gutta-rambong, and Gutta-sundek (Gutta-putih).

BALATA (GUM CHICLE).—This is a milky exudate, known in tropical America as Chicle, or Tuno-gum, derived from the Bully tree (Mimusops globosa, Gaertner., which grows along the Amazon and Orinoco rivers of South America. It is very much like gutta-percha, and is employed sometimes in plasters. Within recent years the demand for this substance has increased enormously in the United States, where the bulk is employed in making chewing gum.

GUTTA-PERCHA CEMENTS.—An improved cement for uniting the parts of boots and shoes, and in the manufacture of articles of dress in which cement is required, is made of 64 parts, by weight, of gutta-percha, 16 parts of caoutchouc, 8 parts of pitch, 4 parts of shellac, and 8 parts of oil. The ingredients are melted together, the caoutchouc having been previously dissolved. A cement for uniting sheet gutta-percha to silk or other fabrics, is composed of gutta-percha, 40 pounds; caoutchouc, 3 pounds; shellac, 3 pounds; Canada balsam, 14 pounds; liquid styrax, 35 pounds; gum mastic, 4 pounds; and oxide of lead, 1 pound. Another for uniting it to leather, as soles of shoes, etc., consists of gutta-percha, 50 pounds; Venice turpentine, 40 pounds; shellac, 4 pounds; caoutchouc, 1 pound; and liquid styrax, 5 pounds. A cement for repairing or patching shoes and boots has been in vogue among shoemakers. It is made by dissolving 1 ounce of raw gutta-percha in 1 pound of bisulphide of carbon, and then adding a piece of resin. The leather must be well buffed to make the cement adhere.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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