In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue…
But how many travelers do you think were suffering from tooth pain during that time? A lot I would imagine. Fortunately dentistry has had many advances in the treatment of toothaches, tooth loss and loose teeth, however it is astonishing to realize the treatments that took place hundreds and thousands of years ago and how far we have come and truly lucky we are to have these advances. Though much of the philosophy and treatment “approaches” were surprisingly progressive for their time and similar to today’s treatments, we need to count our blessings to be a part of the era of “modern dentistry”.
Can anyone recall the scene in Castaway, with Tom Hanks, knocking his tooth out with the ice skate? The scene is hair-raising to watch and resonates with me as a dental professional. I can only imagine primitive dentistry was similar, using rocks and stones to gain relief of nagging tooth pain and barbarically removing one’s own tooth by slamming it with a rock. Surprisingly, there is evidence of treatment to the dentition with the use of beeswax as a filling material in teeth with holes present dating back to the caveman days. Early signs of dentistry date back to 7000BC when the Indu Valley Civilization used “bow drills” to drill holes in teeth. In 5000BC tooth decay was thought to be caused by “tooth worms” until the discovery of oral bacteria in the 1890’s. Hensi-Re (3000BC) was the earliest known dentist and was referred to as the “Chief of the Toothers”. His notoriety even followed him to his grave, as on his tomb was inscribed “one of the greatest to deal with teeth…” (ADA TimeLine). Hippocrates and Aristotle (400BC) both had their “hands” in early dentistry, sharing their knowledge of tooth decay and teachings on ethical practice. The Roman’s impact in dentistry included a “chew stick” made of frayed branches to be used as a toothbrush, while the Arabs referred to a similar version of a tooth cleaning device as a “Siwak”.
In 13th century France, Barbers became responsible for not only a shave and a haircut, but provided services like “bleeding” areas of the body to gain health and tooth extraction. Europe, notably Germany and France, continued to pave the way for modern dentistry. It wasn’t until 1760 that “a medically trained dentist…immigrates to America from England” to practice dentistry. Unfortunately it would be some 80 years later before some form of anesthetic would become available to help ease the painful experience of dental treatment. At this point in history gold is being cast into crowns and bridges, however over 1500 years earlier (second century AD) a “silver paste” was already introduced as amalgam in China. By the 1830’s, however, controversy will ensue , as those part of the “American Society of Dental Surgeons” disapprove the use of mercury fillings in teeth and the “Amalgam Wars” begin.
The Father of Modern Dentistry, Pierre Fauchard, publishes a book “A Treatise on Teeth” which clearly spoke of necessary steps in the treatment of dental health (1723) and it wasn’t long after that advances were made to improve dental treatment at an accelerated rate. Even Paul Revere, the very same who warned of the invasion of the British, was practicing dentistry, and in 1776 was associated with the first details of forensic dentistry. Upon the death of his friend, Paul Revere identified Dr. Joseph Warren by recognizing the bridge work he had earlier made for him. And finally, around 1781 and throughout his career, George Washington made dental history with the myth he had wooden teeth. He did have false teeth, but they were generally made of ivory and one denture set even made of lead. It is factual that he retained several of his own teeth, when they were removed, for placement in his denture and even purchased teeth from African-Americans for use in future dentures.
Of course a detail near and dear to my heart is the historical fact that a brilliant man, Dr Fones, in 1913 was responsible for the inception of the dental hygienist and opened the first clinic for the training. Microbial discoveries coupled with the teachings and training of the removal of deposits around the teeth, and eventually below the gum line, has contributed to the permanent maintenance of our own dentition. 35 years ago I began working in the dental profession. At that time, gloves were not worn and handpieces (drill) were belt driven. I remember while in school getting my hair caught and tangled in the belt as I leaned into it in an effort to see the patient’s teeth while polishing. Fortunately, air driven handpieces took the profession by storm and we have not looked back! I mean literally…I have not had to look at the back of my head for clumps of hair loss since their arrival!
A quick glimpse of the years that followed include the introduction of implants in 1980, home bleaching kits in 1989, both leading to the “Era of Esthetic Dentistry” beginning in 1990. Because of the onslaught of interest in the appearance of our teeth, the dental profession not only concentrates on oral health but also achieving the perfect smile. Orthodontics, laminates, crowns, implants and in-office bleaching are as much a part of our daily treatment plans these days as removing decay and the treatment of gum disease. Mention everything about your medical history, even if you don’t think it relates to your mouth. Many diseases can have effects on your dental health. Researchers continue to find ways in which oral health is related to one’s overall health. It is our mission at Seidner Dentistry to be aware of any changes in your history. Don’t hold back on being open about any specific anxiety issues as without a voice you may feel overwhelmed. Meeting not only your dental needs, but helping you to achieve the smile you’ve always wanted has always been a part of our history, one of which we will soon not change, for this is past history worth repeating.
Don’t forget to enjoy your holiday…
“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action”
– By Julia Guerra, RDH, BA