Most people visit the dentist now with little anxiety or fear for the outcome, thanks to tremendous improvements in doctors’ knowledge and procedures. In the not too distant past, however, people would not see a “dentist” until the pain was too great to bear. The practice of dentistry has come a long way.
Records mentioning problems with teeth go back to the earliest writings in history. Texts from 5000 BC show the Sumerians believed worms were responsible for tooth decay, a belief that lingered into the 1300s AD. The Code of Hammurabi, an early set of laws dating to 1754 BC, talks about tooth extraction several times—as a form of punishment!
Fortunately, over time, knowledge improved and attitudes changed, and efforts to improve dental conditions were documented. Hippocrates, the “Father of Modern Medicine,” and Aristotle both wrote about using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws. And, between 166 and 201 AD, the Etruscans began developing bridges and gold crowns.
The first book devoted to dentistry was published in 1530. Later, in 1723, French Surgeon Pierre Fauchard wrote a paper revealing the ideas that led him to be called “The Father of Modern Dentistry.”
American innovations advanced dental care from 1790 to 1890 with the invention of the foot-powered dental drill, reclining dental chairs, and the use of ether. In 1840, the world’s first dental college was founded in Baltimore, and the American Dental Association was formed shortly thereafter. Toothpaste became more accessible during the 1800s when it was sold in tubes for the first time. In 1890, Dr. Willoughby Miller discovered the important link between bacteria and tooth decay.
Relieving pain, once the primary goal of dentistry, continues to be a core commitment. Patient demands help to drive advances in the delivery of dental treatment. As patients have become more invested in dental care they have demanded more restorative and cosmetic dentistry, with an emphasis on preventing problems.
Cavity prevention received a boost when water fluoridation began in 1945, and, in 1989, the first at-home tooth whitening kit was put on the market. Advances in lasers, new materials, and digital technology are improving the way dental treatment is delivered today, and a host of new technologies and solutions are just beyond the horizon. Yes, dentistry has come a long way!