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The History of Dentistry: Innovations in Dental Care

By Burton Gooch on January 12, 2018


A tooth model surrounded by a ringHere at Dr. Burton Gooch Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, we always take time to go over major topics in dental health. Patient education is a cornerstone of effective general dentistry, and we think our patients in the Birmingham, AL area can benefit from leaning more about tooth decay and gum disease.

We rarely get a chance to discuss the development and evolution of dentistry with our patients. We'd like to use this blog post to go over some of the key innovations in the field of dental care. The fascinating story starts thousands of years ago in Southern Mesopotamia.

Early Developments in the Ancient World

Even before the Common Era, many people cared about oral health and hygiene.

  • 50000 BC – A Sumerian text suggests that "tooth worms" are responsible for cavities. This is an early sense of bacteria's role to play in tooth decay.

  • 2600 BC – The death of Ancient Egyptian Hesy-Re, a scribe sometimes considered the first dentist. Inside of his tomb, an inscription refers to him as "the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians."

  • 500 to 300 BC – Both Aristotle and Hippocrates, major figures in Ancient Greek thought, write about dental care topics, including gum disease, tooth extraction, and the pattern of teeth as they emerge.

  • 166 to 201 AD – The Etruscans are among the first people to use gold for bridgework and crowns.

Key Developments in the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages would introduce a number of innovations that would help improve the practice of dental care.

  • 700 – A Chinese medical text mentions "silver paste," a forerunner to metal dental fillings.

  • 1210 – A Guild of Barbers is established in France. There are two branches: barber-surgeons who perform bleedings and tooth extractions, and those trained to perform more complicated surgeries.

  • 1530 - In Germany, Artzney Buchlein publishes "The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth." It's the first book dedicated to dental care issues.

Key Developments in the 18th Century

Professional dentistry made some significant improvements during the 18th century.

  • 1723 – Pierre Fauchard publishes the "The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth," which offers a comprehensive approach to dental treatments.

  • 1776 – Paul Revere, that famous figure of the American Revolution, places a Boston newspaper advertisement for his services as a dentist.

  • 1790 – John Greenwood creates a foot pedal engine for dental drills. In the same year, the first dental chair was created by Josiah Flagg.

Key Developments in the 19th Century

Some key innovations in 19th century would give greater shape to the practice of modern dental care.

  • 1833 to 1850 – The Crawcours brothers from France introduce metal amalgam fillings to the United States. This begins a debate about the safety of metal fillings, which continues to this day.

  • 1846 – A dentist named William Morton uses ether as anesthesia, a major step forward in pain management.

  • The 1880s – Thanks to the collapsible metal tube, toothpaste no longer needs to be placed in boxes or jars.

  • 1895 – X-rays are discovered by German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen. The first dental x-ray of a living person is taken the following year in the United States.

Modern Dentistry: The 20th Century

In the 20th century, major technological innovations and leaps resulted in the contemporary dental care patients receive today.

  • 1905 – A German chemist named Alfred Einhorn creates a local anesthetic called procain. You know it better by the name Novocain.

  • 1938 – The first modern toothbrush is manufactured using nylon for bristles.

  • 1949 – Oskar Hagger, a Swiss chemist, creates a process for bonding acrylic resins to the teeth. This will lead to the use of tooth-colored fillings and restorations.

  • 1989 – The first commercially available teeth whitening products hit the market and are available over-the-counter.

Learn More About Dental Care

For more information about dental care treatments and how to make you smile look its best, we encourage you to contact an experienced cosmetic and restorative dentist. The entire team at Dr. Burton Gooch Family & Cosmetic Dentistry is here to help you.

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