Dentistry is older than you think
The history of dentistry is fascinating. During the time of pre-agricultural societies, tooth decay was rare. The advent of farming 10,000 years ago correlated with an increase in tooth decay (cavities).
An infected tooth from Italy partially cleaned with flint tools, between 13,820 and 14,160 years old, represents the oldest known example of preventative dentistry. A 2017 study also suggests that 130,000 years ago the Neanderthals already used rudimentary dentistry tools.
Indus Valley Civilisation
The Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) has yielded evidence of dentistry being practised as far back as 7000 BC. An IVC site in Mehrgarh indicates that this form of dentistry involved curing tooth related disorders with bow drills operated, perhaps, by skilled bead crafters. The reconstruction of this ancient form of dentistry showed that the methods used were reliable and effective.
The earliest dental filling, made of beeswax, was discovered in Slovenia and dates from 6500 years ago. Dentistry was practiced in prehistoric Malta, as evidenced by a skull which had an abscess lanced from the root of a tooth dating back to around 2500 BC.
An ancient Sumerian text describes a “tooth worm” as the cause of dental caries. Evidence of this belief has also been found in ancient India, Egypt, Japan, and China. The legend of the worm is also found in the writings of Homer, and as late as the 14th century AD the surgeon Guy de Chauliac still promoted the belief that worms cause tooth decay.
Hippocrates & Aristotle
Ancient Greek scholars Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry. This included the eruption pattern of teeth, treating decayed teeth and gum disease, extracting teeth with forceps, and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws.
Historically, dental extractions have been used to treat a variety of illnesses. During the Middle Ages and throughout the 19th century, dentistry was not a profession in itself, and often dental procedures were performed by barbers or general physicians. Barbers usually limited their practice to extracting teeth which alleviated pain and associated chronic tooth infection.
Instruments used for dental extractions date back several centuries. In the 14th century, Guy de Chauliac most probably invented the dental pelican (resembling a pelican’s beak) which was used to perform dental extractions up until the late 18th century. The pelican was replaced by the dental key which, in turn, was replaced by modern forceps in the 19th century.
Tooth cleaning and decay
Since before recorded history, a variety of oral hygiene measures have been used for teeth cleaning. This has been verified by various excavations done throughout the world, in which chew sticks, tree twigs, bird feathers, animal bones and porcupine quills have been found. In historic times, different forms of tooth cleaning tools have been used.
Indian medicine (Ayurveda) has used the neem tree, or daatun, and its products to create teeth cleaning twigs and similar products; a person chews one end of the neem twig until it somewhat resembles the bristles of a toothbrush, and then uses it to brush the teeth.
In the Muslim world, the miswak, or siwak, made from a twig or root, has antiseptic properties and has been widely used since the Islamic Golden Age. Rubbing baking soda or chalk against the teeth was also common; however, this can have negative side effects over time.
As early as the 7th century BC, Etruscans in northern Italy made partial dentures out of human or other animal teeth fastened together with gold bands. The Romans had likely borrowed this technique by the 5th century BC.
Wooden full dentures were invented in Japan around the early 16th century. Softened bees wax was inserted into the patient’s mouth to create an impression, which was then filled with harder bees’ wax. Wooden dentures were then meticulously carved based on that model. The earliest of these dentures were entirely wooden, but later versions used natural human teeth or sculpted pagodite, ivory, or animal horn for the teeth.
The first porcelain dentures were made around 1770 by Alexis Duchâteau.
History of dentistry – Images
While going to the dentist is something that many people dread, our fears must be nothing compared to what people in the past had to contend with. The history of dentistry indeed reveals some downright terrifying practices. Check out these images