Milestones in American Dentistry
Imagine going to the dentist and having your teeth operated with a bow drill, a tool that was also used to create fire. Luckily, dentistry has come a long way since then. American dentistry has had its fair share of milestones, so let's take a look back at the historical milestones in the field of dentistry.
According to historical literature, dentistry has been practiced as far back as 7000 BC. The BBC reported that researchers uncovered Stone Age people in Pakistan using dental drills made of flint. Teeth found in a Neolithic graveyard showed clear signs of drilling.
But what caused dental problems for these people? In 5000 B.C., a Sumerian text describes "tooth worms" as the cause of dental decay. While this may seem far-fetched, it is logical. The holes created by cavities are somewhat similar to those created by worms. The legend of the tooth worm traveled as late as the 14th Century A.D., where the surgeon Guy de Chauliac promoted the belief.
Egyptian scribe Hesy-Re was often called the first "dentist." An inscription on his tomb included a reference to dental work. He died in 2600 BC, but this was the earliest known reference to a person identified as a dental practitioner.
It is widely believed that Etruscans were the first society to use dental bridges, starting around 700 BC. From 500 to 300 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, including treating decayed teeth and gum disease, extracting teeth with forceps and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws.
As we entered the Middle Ages, dental materials also progressed. In 700, a medical text in China mentioned the use of "silver paste," a type of amalgam. Early dentists practiced extraction, which was used to alleviate pain and stop tooth decay. During the Middle Ages and throughout the 19th Century, dentistry was often performed by barbers or general physicians. Barbers often assisted monks in their general ministry because the tools of the barber trade were useful for surgery.
In the 14th Century, Guy de Chauliac invented the Dental Pelican, which was used up until the 18th Century. In France, Ambrose Pare, known as the Father of Surgery, published his Complete Works in 1575. This includes information about tooth extraction and the treatment of tooth decay and jaw fractures.
It is believed that the 17th century French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today. In 1723, Fauchard published The Surgeon Dentist, a Treatise on Teeth. His book was the first to describe a comprehensive system for caring and treating the teeth. Thus, he is considered the father of modern dentistry. Fauchard was responsible for many developments, including the introduction of dental fillings and the use of dental prosthesis.
In 1760, John Baker, the earliest medically-trained dentist to practice in America, emigrated from England and set up practice. In the same decade, Paul Revere placed advertisements in a Boston newspaper offering his services as a dentist.
In 1790, the first dental foot engine was built by John Greenwood, son of Isaac Greenwood and one of George Washington's dentists. It was made from an adapted foot-powered spinning wheel. This was also the year that the first specialized dental chair was invented by Josiah Flagg, made from a wooden Windsor chair with a headrest attached.
The 1800s were a century for continued advancement in the field. In 1801, Richard C. Skinner wrote Treatise on the Human Teeth, the first dental book published in America. In 1825, Samuel Stockton began the commercial manufacturing of porcelain teeth. In 1833 to 1850, two brothers from France introduced amalgam filling material in the United States under the name Royal Mineral Succedaneum. The Crawcours brothers were charlatans whose methods sparked a controversy within the dental professions over the use of amalgam fillings.
In 1840, Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris established the world's first dental school, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. The Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree was also originated. In the same year, the American Society of Dental Surgeons was founded. Now that dentists were learning the tools of the trade, Horace Wells discovered that nitrous oxide could be used as an anesthesia. In 1844, the Connecticut dentist used nitrous oxide to conduct several extractions in his private practice. In 1859, 26 dentists meet in Niagara Falls, New York, and formed the American Dental Association.
Now that we've caught up with history, check out this timeline for major milestones in the 20th Century.
1903—Charles Land devises the porcelain jacket crown.
1938—The nylon toothbrush, the first made with synthetic bristles, appears on the market.
1950s—The first fluoride toothpastes are marketed.
1949—Oskar Hagger, a Swiss chemist, develops the first system of bonding acrylic resin to dentin.
1957—John Borden introduces a high-speed air-driven contra-angle hand piece. The Airotor obtains speeds up to 300,000 rotations per minute and is an immediate commercial success, launching a new era of high-speed dentistry.
1960s—Sit down, four-handed dentistry becomes popular in the United States. This technique improves productivity and shortens treatment time.
1960—The first commercial electric toothbrush, developed in Switzerland after World War II, is introduced in the United States. A cordless, rechargeable model follows in 1961.
1989—The first commercial home tooth bleaching product is marketed.
1990s—New tooth-colored restorative materials plus increased usage of bleaching, veneers, and implants inaugurate an era of esthetic dentistry.
1997—FDA approves the erbium YAG laser, the first for use on dentin, to treat tooth decay.