Dentistry Through the Ages

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
July 17, 2017

Set of false teeth

Like other medical fields, the world of dentistry has changed dramatically through the ages. To discover just how much a trip to the dentist has evolved, check out the timeline below.

Ancient Dentistry: Baby Steps to Oral Health Care

According to the American Dental Association, a Sumerian text that dates all the way back to 5000 BC described what was known as “tooth worms” and the tooth decay that they caused.

In 2600 BC, an Egyptian scribe known as Hesy-Re passed away. He’s often referred to as the first dentist, as the earliest reference to a dentist is within the inscription that’s found on his tomb: “the greatest of those who deal with teeth.”

Between 1700 BC and 100 BC, more ancient texts that referred to dental diseases, as well as remedies for toothaches, were created. Even Aristotle and Hippocrates wrote about everything from how to treat gum disease and tooth decay, to how to extract teeth using forceps and how to use wires to stabilize loose teeth. And by 201 AD, Etruscans were applying fixed bridgework and gold crowns as forms of dental prosthetics.

The Middle Ages: Getting Dentistry Going

It took hundreds of years for dentistry to develop into an actual profession, little by little. For example, it was not until 700 AD that a Chinese medical text referred to a type of amalgam known as silver paste.

Much later, around 1210 in France, a Guild of Barbers was started. It would evolve into a group of surgeons who would be able to complete operations, along with a group of lay barber-surgeons who were focused on basic services that included extractions.

Curious when the first book on dentistry was published? Well, that would be in 1530. That’s the year that The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth (wow, that’s a mouthful!) was written for both surgeons and barbers who were responsible for treating the mouth. The book, written by Artzney Buchlein and released in Germany, delved into everything from drilling teeth and tooth extraction, to dental hygiene and fillings made of gold.  

A bit later, in 1575, Complete Works was published by the Father of Surgery, Ambrose Pare, in France. This text contained information about dentistry as well, including how to treat jaw fractures and tooth decay, as well as how to extract teeth.

The 1700s: The Birth of Modern Dentistry

In 1723, a French surgeon named Pierre Fauchard, who’s also referred to as the Father of Modern Dentistry, published The Surgeon Dentist, a Treatise on Teeth. This is the first publication that described a total system for dentistry as a practice. It included information on oral function and anatomy, restorative techniques, operative techniques, and even the construction of dentures.

A few other professionals helped to advance dentistry in the years to come. For example, Claude Mouton stated that a gold crown and post could be retained in a patient’s root canal, and he also suggested using white enameling to make gold crowns look more natural. In 1760, John Baker, an immigrant from England, became the earliest dentist to be medically trained and able to practice in America. And between 1760 and 1780, Isaac Greenwood started practicing as the first American dentist who was born in the country.

More advancements took place throughout the latter part of the 1700s, including the development of post-mortem dental forensics, porcelain teeth, a dental foot engine, and the first dental chair.

The 1800s: Advancements on Past Achievements

It took until 1801 for the first dentistry related book to be published in America. It was titled the Treatise on the Human Teeth and it was written by Richard C. Skinner. But this century saw even more advancements, such as the start of the commercial manufacture of porcelain teeth and the invention of a reclining dental chair. Dentists also began using vulcanite as a base to create false teeth and dentures.   

The very first dental journal, the American Journal of Dental Science, was published in 1839, further proof of the spread of education and science related to dentistry. And in 1840, the first dental school in the world, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, was founded by Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden. They established the Doctor of Dental Surgery, or DDS, degree as well. And in the same year, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, which was the first national dental organization in the world, was also founded.

With the rise in dentists and the spread of dentistry came the requirement for regulation. So, in 1841, Alabama enacted the first dental practice act that would regulate dentistry in the country.

1846 was the year that the first demonstration of ether anesthesia for dental surgery was presented by William Morton. Phew, no more extreme pain during procedures!

In 1859, the American Dental Association was formed, and the National Association of Dental Examiners was created in 1883.

While toothpaste had only been available in powder and liquid forms, tube toothpaste was developed in the 1880s, allowing the product to be mass-produced and sold across the nation. Other advancements throughout the century included the cohesive gold foil method to get gold into a cavity with less pressure (that’s a relief!), the creation of the rubber dam, the foot-treadle dental engine, the electric dental engine, the hydraulic dental chair, and the commercial dental laboratory.

Regular flossing and brushing were promoted in 1890 after the connection between bacteria and tooth decay was established by Willoughby Miller in his book titled Micro-Organisms of the Human Mouth. The first dental x-ray was taken in 1895, and orthodontics became a specialty in 1899.

Whew, a lot happened in the 19th century!

The 20th Century: Modern Dentistry in Full Force

The start of the 20th century already saw new inventions and advancements in dentistry. These included the development of the porcelain jacket crown, the formulation of a local anesthetic (which would later become known as Novocain), and the creation of a new casting machine for cast fillings.  

Greene Vardiman Black did a lot to advance dentistry. He was credited with developing methods for filling teeth, and he was also responsible for standardizing dental operative instrumentation and procedures. He even developed a better amalgam and established using visual aids to teach dentistry.

In 1913, the first school for oral hygiene, the Fones Clinic for Dental Hygienists, was founded by Alfred C. Fones. It’s no wonder that he’s referred to as the Father of Dental Hygiene.

More inventions continued to hit the scene, including the Vitallium dental screw implant, the nylon toothbrush, a method for bonding acrylic resin with dentin, fluoride toothpaste, the acid etch technique, the high-speed contra-angle handpiece, the fully reclining chair, and the electric toothbrush.

By 1960, four-handed dentistry shortened treatment time and improved productivity, and lasers were developed for conditions like periodontal disease. Later, more advancements in composite resin and dental implants were made, and consumers got their first home bleaching kit in 1989. Woohoo, whiter teeth!

Aesthetic dentistry became even more popular throughout the ‘90s when tooth-colored materials to restore damaged teeth, and the use of veneers became increasingly accessible.

The 21st Century: So Many Options!

The 21st century continues to prove that dentistry will keep evolving. Orthodontics is just one area where things have already improved, with the development of Invisalign and a process known as micro-osteoperforation to fix malocclusion more quickly.

By now, we’re assuming that you’re pretty relieved to be living in the 21st century and to be able to reap the benefits of modern dentistry (no more gold fillings!). With the right protocol at home and regular trips to the dentist for cleanings and checkups, you can maintain a beautiful smile. And if you do run into dental problems, modern tools and procedures will ensure an experience that’s as pain-free as possible.


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