The Dentist and Dental Medicine Throughout History

The historical and archaeological record indicates that the first dental treatments occurred in what is now India around 7000 BCE. The teeth of recovered skulls revealed dramatic reshaping to correct malformed or damaged teeth. Just like your dentist, these ancient oral health professionals used drills to remove the damaged portions of teeth. However, because these ancient people did not understand germ theory or bacteria, they believed holes in teeth were caused by a small worm. In fact, this worm theory is found in records from all over the world including in Japan, China, and ancient Greece.

Further research revealed that fillings were also used in the ancient world as far back as 4500 BCE. This was determined by evidence of teeth repaired using bees wax. Ancient Greek texts indicate a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of oral health. Texts have revealed descriptions of teeth eruption from gums, treatments for gum disease and tooth rot, as well techniques for saving a loose tooth using wire, very similar to modern bridges or braces. In fact, dentistry was a carefully studied field in Rome, which created some of the first dental amalgams, very similar to the metal dental fillings you would get from a modern dentist.

Over time, the medical knowledge of multiple cultures began to converge, resulting in the creation of more comprehensive treatments for oral diseases and injuries. This movement includes the creation of tools built for the sole purpose of dental treatments or extractions. Despite these advancements, there were few true dentists and any treatments were performed by traditional physicians or barbers. A codified study of oral medicine did not begin until 1650 CE. This new study improved not only the quality of oral health procedures but also standardized practices and removed ineffective treatments. One of the most influential men during this period was Pierre Fauchard, who pioneered both prosthetics as well as the creation of a comprehensive oral anatomy text.

The modern dentist did not exist until the 20th century with the erection of dental colleges, which taught the most advanced techniques for both treatments and preventative practices. Especially in America, where modern technology is often embraced the fastest, oral health practices became common. Standardized products like toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss appeared on the market, which further improved smiles nationwide.

So, the next time you need your teeth cleaned or x-rayed, remember that you are participating in the same processes as your ancient ancestors, except now we have painkillers.