The History of Dentistry and How it Affects Our Understanding Today

It’s easy to take modern medicine for granted, especially when it comes to dentistry. Many of us are familiar with the dental office and basic procedures performed, but we have little concept of the historical links that exist.

There are some interesting aspects of the history of dentistry that still relate to treatments today.

The History of Dentistry Spans Thousands of Years

Humans have attempted to care for their teeth for as long as they have existed. Some of the records relating to dental issues and dental care go back several thousands of years. Learning about the past and how it connects to the present can help you to prepare for any upcoming dental treatment you need.

Cavities – Tooth Worms?!

Before people understood how cavities occurred, it was theorized that worms in the teeth degraded the material from the inside out, eating through the enamel layer. It’s a bizarre concept for most people today, but it made perfect sense to some of our ancestors.

Records as early as 600 BC indicated that people believed in tooth worms. Recent studies have suggested that this may have stemmed from the early dissection of teeth and the worm-like structures that can show in the tooth pulp.

Of course, tooth worms were never substantiated, and the scientific method prevailed. Today we know that cavities are caused by bacteria. In the mouth, bacteria feed on plaque, creating an acid byproduct that damages tooth enamel. Skipping brushing causes more bacteria to develop, increasing the risk of cavities.

Fighting cavities (not tooth worms)

The best way to prevent cavities and infections of the gums is to brush, floss, and rinse daily. Brush up to three times a day and floss once in the evening.

Even with regular oral hygiene at home, there’s still a risk of developing cavities. Brushing and flossing alone won’t remove all of the plaque that develops on teeth. Regular in-office cleaning is recommended every 12-24 months. This can be performed at the same time as a routine dental examination (which should occur every 6 months.

Pierre Fauchard, “The Surgeon Dentist”

The work of French physician Pierre Fauchard in the 1700s disproved the tooth worm myth for any who still believed it. Known as the father of modern dentistry, Dr. Fauchard is responsible for many of the developments in modern dentistry.

Cavities and fillings

Dr. Fauchard was known as a skilled physician and he became instrumental in the scientific approach to dental treatment and oral and maxillofacial surgery. Before Fauchard, dentists would typically extract decayed teeth rather than treat them. He developed the first dental fillings to treat dental cavities. Today we use aesthetic white fillings made from resin materials, but the underlying concept is still the same.

Dr. Fauchard was also the first trained surgeon to understand the cause of  cavities. He proposed that acids derived from sugar were responsible for cavities and the decay of teeth. This turned out to be accurate.

The invention of dental prosthetics and orthodontics

Modern dental prosthetics were also developed by Dr. Fauchard. His research found that prosthetic tooth substitutes could be shaped from blocks of bone and ivory. He also invented early orthodontic braces, initially using gold. Dr. Fauchard discovered that teeth would follow the shape of a wire guide frame.

The concept still applies in the field of orthodontics today. Metal braces are used to incrementally guide teeth into their ideal position. More modern devices, such as clear aligners, achieve the same result using molded plastic aligners that are more comfortable and more aesthetic.

Without Dr. Fauchard it could have taken a lot longer for dentistry to get where it is today.

The 200-year History of Toothbrushes

Today, we take the availability of toothbrushes for granted. It’s easy to pick one up in the dental office after your routine examination, from the grocery store, the supermarket, or even a gas station store. Any place that sells general goods will probably have a few options for toothbrushes in stock.

But it was only relatively recently in history that mass-produced toothbrushes entered the market.

First American manufactured toothbrush: 1885

It might surprise you to learn that the first mass-produced American toothbrush didn’t appear until 1885, just 136 years ago. In England, mass production of toothbrushes started almost 100 years earlier.

Bristle toothbrushes were invented in China around 1400, but the modern design with thin bristles and an ergonomic shape didn’t appear until 1938, well within the memory of people who are still living today.

Cleaning teeth in the pre-brushing era

Before toothbrushes, people used a whole range of materials to try and keep their teeth clean. Pieces of cloth and water were sometimes rubbed on the teeth to help remove the buildup of plaque, but this wouldn’t have been overly effective, as there would still be plaque left between teeth.

In ancient Egypt, people used frayed twigs to clean teeth, and these could even remove some of the plaque and debris from between teeth. The use of tooth cleaning materials has been vastly different throughout cultures around the world. Some European cultures used soot from fireplaces, rags, and salt to remove plaque and stains from teeth.

It’s much easier today to use toothpaste and a toothbrush, and it’s much safer, too.

Tooth implants – from bamboo to ivory

The history of tooth implants dates back thousands of years. Archaeologists have found bamboo implants tapped into bone, dating back 4000 years. In ancient Egypt around 2000 years ago, implants have been found made of human teeth and ivory.

Today, our understanding of dental implantation is far more advanced, but the underlying concepts are actually similar to what people were trying to achieve thousands of years ago. A replacement root is inserted into the jaw, and a prosthetic is then placed on top.

The concept of tooth implants hasn’t changed much

Our ancestors actually had the right idea. The concept of a tooth implant is to functionally replace the root of a tooth. Transplanting human teeth or inserting alternatives like ivory would, in theory, stimulate the jaw and prevent the loss of bone. This is exactly how modern implants work, although the technology is much more sophisticated.

Modern tooth implants are a functional and aesthetic masterpiece of science

In 1965, Dr. Per-Ingvar Brånemark placed his first titanium dental implant into the mouth of a human volunteer. Brånemark based his research on the earlier discovery that human bone would fuse with titanium.

Brånemark’s system used an implant post inserted into a pilot hole in the jaw. Over time, the bone would grow around the implant, a process known as osseointegration. This would create a stable foundation, functionally the same as a natural tooth root. An abutment was then attached to the implant, and a prosthetic was attached to the abutment.

Dental implants are the gold standard for treating tooth loss

The research of Brånemark is the basis for modern implant dentistry. Some of the most popular implants today still carry his name on the branding. Some of the specifics have changed. There are single-tooth implants, and dentures supported by implants, but the function and concepts are near identical.

Advances like changes in the shape of the implant, where the abutment is mounted (at tissue level or bone level), and texturing on the surface of the titanium have made implants more reliable than ever before. Today, dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement and the success rate is up to 98% when the treatment is performed by a trusted and experienced dentist.

Get the Best Dental Care Based on Centuries of Research and Development

The exceptional dental care you get at Spotsylvania, VA  is the culmination of centuries of research and development. Every advancement, big or small, has led us to where we are today.

You can get the most advanced dental care from the team at Hilltop Dental, incorporating the latest proven research and clinical experience. Get compassionate and detailed care for any of your dental concerns. Book your appointment by calling (540) 898-8181 today.