Go Back in Time
You’re considering having a dental procedure. At first, you were just thinking about your own smile, which procedure(s) would help you bring it closer to your ideal, and how you would pay for it. But as you dig in, you might get interested in how dentistry got started and how it’s changed over time. Why not take a few minutes to learn a little history? You might teach your friends something — and maybe even your dentist!
How Dentistry Got Started
Many people think of dentistry as a modern invention, with all of its advanced materials and tiny instruments. While the technologically-advanced tools of the trade are of course rather new, dentistry itself is actually an ancient practice. There is evidence that people were practicing dentistry in the Indus Valley as far back as 7000 BC. And it wasn’t just tooth extractions — they used bow drills to fix teeth, and it appears they did pretty well at it.
In the ancient world, there were even attempts at filling cavities. The earliest dental filling found is from around 4500 BC and made of beeswax; while the first use of dental amalgam, a material still used today in dental fillings in very similar form, was in China in the 600s. Ancient people also attempted the creation of dental prosthetics. The Egyptians used gold wire to hold in artificial teeth. The Etruscans used gold crowns, and dental bridges fixed in place.
Dentistry in Europe
The reason that many of us now believe that dentistry was almost nonexistent until recently probably comes from Europe. During the Middle Ages, dentistry disappeared in this area. For centuries, dentistry was limited mainly to dental extractions, which were performed by barbers (known as “tooth-drawers”). While this could save the lives of those whose decayed teeth had caused abscesses in the mouth, it was not much help to anyone else.
During the Renaissance era, dentistry began to develop. Around the mid-1600s, English and French doctors became interested in diseases of the teeth. Pierre Fauchard, a French surgeon, made rapid advances in this field and became known as “the father of modern dentistry.” He created the first braces, which were simple gold wires tied to the teeth with thin threads. He introduced dental fillings. He also began to experiment with dental prosthetics, suggesting artificial teeth carved from ivory or bone. In the mid-1700s, English surgeon John Hunter attempted tooth transplants, placing teeth from fresh cadavers into the mouths of living people. While these teeth did not undergo sufficient osseointegration (bonding to the jawbone) to be permanent, some did last for several years. Porcelain false teeth were invented in the late 1700s, and began to come into wide use in the 1800s. (Contrary to legend, George Washington did not have wooden dentures; they were made of porcelain, ivory, and animal and human teeth.)
The cause of dental caries (cavities) was thought to be “tooth worms” for many centuries. (This really isn’t that far off; it’s really bacteria that cause cavities.) Pierre Fauchard, the “father of modern dentistry” mentioned above, was among the first to suggest that acids derived from sugar might be involved in causing tooth decay. (This is spot-on. The bacteria eat sugar and metabolize it into acids that dissolve tooth enamel.) Despite having known about this idea since at least the early 1700s, we continue to eat huge amounts of sugar — and to need dental fillings, which luckily have advanced to the point where they’re hardly visible.
Today, You Have Many Options
Human beings have sought to save damaged teeth and improve their smiles for centuries. Dentists have spent years developing techniques for treating tooth decay, replacing lost teeth, aligning uneven teeth, and more. Today, you have a huge variety of options. From materials that mimic natural teeth almost exactly, to tooth aligners that are nearly invisible, you’ve never had more options for getting your smile to look exactly the way you want it. So if you’re considering cosmetic dentistry, you’ve come at the right time!