In today’s world, we take for granted how easy it is to take care of our teeth. We can easily use toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss at home and book our biannual appointments to ensure that everything looks good. That wasn’t always the case though!
Let’s take a trip back in time to look at the history of dentistry.
Believe it or not, dentistry is one of the oldest medical fields, dating back to 7,000 B.C. in the Indus Valley Civilization. It wasn’t until 5,000 B.C., though, that texts began to reference dentistry and tooth decay. At that time, written records described “tooth worms” causing decay — a belief that wasn’t proven wrong until the 1700s! In 1530, the first book entirely focused on dentistry — called The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth — was published. Additionally, in ancient Greece, both Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about treating tooth decay.
Dentistry became more defined in the 1700s. Pierre Fauchard, a French surgeon known as the Father of Modern Dentistry, published his authoritative book, The Surgeon Dentist, a Treatise on Teeth. For the first time, a complete system of caring for teeth and treating dental issues was defined. Fauchard also developed the idea of dental fillings and prosthesis. Plus, he was the first to recognize that acids from sugar ultimately caused tooth decay (thus disproving the theory of “tooth worms”!).
At this point in history, people began to adopt tools and techniques for at-home dental care.
In the late 1700s, the toothbrush was invented. Early iterations were made of hog bristles attached to a bone or bamboo handle. Despite this design, it was considered a major breakthrough in dental care. Nylon bristles were first introduced in 1938, and toothbrushes began to resemble what we still use today. In fact, most Americans didn’t follow good brushing habits until after World War II when soldiers stationed abroad returned home with a better understanding of proper oral hygiene.
When it comes to toothpaste, the original flavors weren’t quite so refreshing. Ancient Egyptians used a mixture of vinegar and ground pumice stone to clean their teeth. Other early versions of toothpaste included honey and crushed eggshells. By the late 1870s, Colgate began to mass produce toothpaste; toothbrushes followed a few years later.
The first dental college, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, opened in 1840. It was quickly recognized that the dental field needed more oversight and laws. The state of Alabama led the charge, enacting the first dental practice act in 1841. Nearly 20 years later, the American Dental Association (ADA) was formed.
The first dental X-ray was taken in 1896. This technology allowed dentists to see inside the mouth and identify dental problems with more accuracy. In the 1960s, the first dental implant was successfully used. This development led to the start of many other treatments and procedures, many of which we still use today.
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