Dentistry Through the Ages

Ancient Dentistry

The roots of dentistry extend back many millennia across the globe. Evidence from the Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan reveals dentistry being practiced as early as 7,000 BC, with practitioners using bow drills to cure tooth ailments. By contrast, a Sumerian text from 5,000 BC cites teeth worms as the source of dental decay. Evidence of this belief has also been found in ancient China, India, Japan and Egypt, in the writings of Homer, and as late as 1300 AD in the writings of surgeon Guy to Chauliac.

Dentistry Through the Ages2,600 BC marked the death of Hesy-Re, the Egyptian scribe who has been called the first "dentist". Remains of some ancient Egyptians and Greco-Romans also reveal early attempts at dental prosthetics and surgery, and it is believed that Egyptians practiced oral surgery from as early as 2,500 BC. Later, between 1,700 and 1,550, the Egyptian text Edwin Smith Papyrus makes references to various tooth maladies and remedies. In the 18th century BC, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi makes two references to dental extraction as a form of punishment.

Early tooth replacement took place in Phoenicia, now Lebanon, as missing teeth were replaced with animal teeth and bound in place using cord.

Dentistry Through the AgesBetween 500 and 300 BC, both Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, including the eruption patterns of teeth, treating teeth decay and gum disease, extracting teeth using forceps, and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws. However, the Etruscans, in what is now Northern and Central Italy, were the first to truly perform restorative dentistry, with everything from dental bridges to partial dentures of gold appearing in Etruscan tombs, dating to 500 BC. The Romans later captured the Etruscans and adopted elements of their culture. Thus, dentistry became a Roman practice as well. Around 100 BC, Roman writer Cornelius Celcus wrote extensively about oral hygiene, stabilising loose teeth, and treating various dental ailments.

Dentistry Through the AgesIn the Eastern world, there is evidence in China of the use of silver amalgam as fillings as early as 200 BC. Oral medicine was also commonplace in early Japan and India. Dental surgery, however, was not practiced in many Islamic countries, because of the Qur'an proscription against mutilations of the body. As a result, preventative dentistry became particularly important in these areas. Writings of Arabic physicians such as Avicenna and Abū al-Qāsim, demonstrate the importance of the cleaning of teeth.

Middle Ages

During the early middle ages in Europe, monks were primarily responsible for practicing dentistry, being the most educated citizens of the time. In 1163, however, a church council declared that monks could no longer practice dentistry, as it involved the shedding of blood. This left barbers responsible for dentistry, as they had previously aided the monks in their dental practices and were familiar with sharp knives and razors. In 1210, a Guild of Barbers was established in France, eventually differentiating surgeons, who were trained to perform complex surgical operations, from barber-surgeons, who performed more routine services, including cleaning and tooth extraction.

Dentistry Through the AgesIn the 14th century, Guy de Chauliac invented the dental pelican, which was used until the 18th century. It was later replaced by the dental key, and finally, the modern forceps of the 20th century.

In 1530, the first book devoted entirely to dentistry, the Little Medicinal Book of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth, written by Artzney Buchlein, was published in Germany. Written by Charles Allen, the first English book devoted to dentistry, Operator for the Teeth, was published in 1685.

18th Century

During the 18th century, the "father of modern dentistry," Pierre Fauchard developed dentistry science as we know it today, publishing in 1723 The Surgeon Dentist, a Treatise of Teeth. The French book included basic oral anatomy and function, dental construction, and various operative and restorative techniques, and effectively separated dentistry from the wider category of surgery. Other surgeons in France and Germany quickly followed his lead, making their own contributions to the field.

In 1771, English surgeon John Hunter published The Natural History of Human Teeth. Hunter, known as the "father of modern surgery" also introduced the transplantation of teeth from one person to another, a practice that became widely adopted, despite the fact that it was inevitably not successful. In the first documented case of dental forensics, American Paul Revere in 1776 identified the body of his friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, using the dental bridge that he had constructed for him.

19th Century

Technical developments continued throughout to the 19th century, particularly in the United States. 1839 marked the launch of the first dental journal, the American Journal of Dental Science, while the first dental school, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, was established in 1840. The first national society of dentists, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, was also founded in 1840.

In 1844, American Horace Wells discovered the anaesthetic properties of nitrous oxide, and began to use it during extractions in his private practice In 1844, American Horace Wells discovered the anaesthetic properties of nitrous oxide, and began to use it during extractions in his private practice. In 1859, twenty-six dentists joined together to form the American Dental Association. Other 19th century American contributions include Sanford Barnum's rubber dam to isolate the tooth from the oral cavity, James Morrison's foot-treadle dental engine, and George Green's electric dental engine.

On the European front, Italian Guiseppeangelo Fonzi introduced porcelain teeth as a substitute for using teeth from corpses. In 1856, English dentist Sir John Tornes led the formation of the first dental organisation in Europe, the Odontological Society. The Royal Dental Hospital of London was established in 1858, while the British Dental Association was formed in 1880. It remains the most important dental organization in the UK to this day. German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the x-ray in 1895, which quickly found dental applications.

20th Century

Dentistry Through the AgesAdvances occurred in all elements of the dental profession during the 20th century. In 1905, German chemist Alfred Einhorn developed the anaesthetic that would later be marketed as Novocain, while in 1907, William Taggart introduced a precision casting machine enabling dentists to make extremely accurate fillings. In 1908, American dental pathologist Greene Vardiman Black published his two-volume Operative Dentistry, standardising the instruments and restorative materials used by dentists, and becoming the essential clinical text for the next half century.

During the 1930's, Frederick McKay, an American dentist, discovered the effects of fluoride in preventing tooth decay. Fluoride was then added to water supplies, which resulted in significantly decreased decay. Fluoride toothpaste, however, was not introduced until the 1950's.

The nylon toothbrush first appeared on the market in 1938, and in 1949, Swiss chemist Oskar Hagger developed the first system of bonding acrylic resin to dentin. In 1958, the first fully-reclining dental chair was released. The first electric toothbrush, developed in Switzerland, was released during the 1960's. The first commercial home bleaching kit became available in 1989, and the era and development of aesthetic dentistry really took off during the 1990s.

Techniques and technologies continue to be developed and refined to this day.

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Dentistry Through the Ages