We can all be thankful that the field of dentistry has taken some great leaps forward through the centuries. We’ve come a long way from staring up at the face of someone who also works as a barber holding a pair of plyers and a hand-cranked drill, and while taking your young child to the dentist can still require a fair amount of gentle persuasion, you know that everyone is in safe hands. However, many of the advancements in dentistry technology that we know and love today are relatively recent leaps forward in a medical field that has been around for thousands of years. Let’s take a look back at how far dentistry has come…
Don’t Blame The Worms
It shouldn’t really be a surprise to learn that forms of dentistry have been around for roughly along as people have. Some research indicates that the earliest incarnation took place in around 7000 BCE in the region we now know as Pakistan, where rotting dental tissue was removed with flint, but a research dig in Northern Italy in 2017 unearthed two front teeth containing bitumen fillings that date back 13,000 years (indeed, the Etruscans are credited with setting us on the path to modern dentistry). While we can find evidence of rudimentary dentistry in Neanderthal teeth, ideas about the causes of dental issues at the time were some ways off what we know today. Cultures around the world from ancient Sumeria to China and India, all the way to 8th Century Europe, believed that it was the fault of tooth worms, which burrowed in to cause cavities and decay.
A Visit From The Barber-Surgeons
After the fall of the Roman Empire, medicine was largely the domain of monks, and you would head to a monastery if you were in need of assistance. Fascinatingly, the monks were assisted by the same barbers who would attend to their own hair needs, and when a decree in 1163 forbade the clergy from engaging in any medical practice that involved blood, it was those barbers who picked up the dental equipment. Hence: Barber-Surgeons. While the actual practice wasn’t really evolving, these barber-surgeons could extract your teeth and clean the ones they left, and by the 1600s more and more of them were abandoning the barber part.
Hit The Textbooks
Although the first book on dentistry was a German volume written in 1530 (for barber-surgeons), the tome that really changed things was Pierre Fauchard’s 1728 book The Surgeon Dentist, Or Treatise on the Teeth. Fauchard had started his training in surgery at the age of 15 while in the French navy and the various dental issues that the sailors suffered from had fascinated him. When he got out, he decided to focus purely on dentistry and became highly regarded in his field. His book, which laid out the details for various different dental surgeries, paved the way for everything that followed and it’s why he’s generally regarded as the father of modern dentistry.
Use The Right Tools For The Job
The equipment used in dentistry has certainly evolved over the centuries, from the bow drills that it is believed were used in the first procedures. Fauchard’s practice cannily appropriated and adapted the tools used in fine detail work in other areas, such as jewelers and watchmakers, but there were no power sources for such tools to run except by hand. You would be looking at around 15 rotations per minute, making work slow going for both the dentist and more importantly the patient. A clockwork powered dental drill was invented in 1864 by British dentist George Fellows Harrison, followed by pedal-operated bellows-powered drill in 1868, created by American George F. Green. The first electric drill was invented by Green one year later, and the basic design we know today was forged in the 1950s with an air turbine drill designed by John Patrick Walsh, from New Zealand. Today, all sorts of companies design dental implant motors for the drills that cut through teeth and bone, and you can visit a dental handpiece specialist like Avtec Dental to see just how many different pieces of kit are available to choose from.
No history of dentistry is complete without mentioning the introduction of X-ray technology. The X-ray was discovered back in 1895 by a German scientist named Wilhelm Röntgen, with the “x” part of the name denoting the fact that no one initially knew which ray was able to see through flesh and not bone. While his countryman Dr. Otto Walkhoff made the first dental radiograph on himself one year later, it was the New Orleans dentist C. Edmund Kells who took the big leap forward of taking X-rays of a living patient. However, tragedy ensued when he began to suffer the effects of radiation from the procedures, developing painful lesions on his hands. He would lose an arm to radiation poisoning and eventually took his own life. Dentist William Herbert Rollins wrote the first published paper on the dangers of radiation and encouraged the use of lead shielding. As the years went on, X-rays became safer and standard practice, and invaluable tool for dentists everywhere.