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Dentistry has come a long way. Since the dawn of history, mankind has worked to develop methods for keeping that most hated of enemies, tooth decay, at bay. It’s a fascinating, rich history, full of famous figures showing up and contributing to it in surprising ways.

At Dental Specialty Associates, we’re passionate about the history of our field and would love to share that passion with you. To break down the entire history of oral surgery and dentistry in a single post would be impossible. There’s simply too much ground to cover! But here is a “highlights reel” of some of the most important people and developments that shaped the course of dentistry. We’re proud to present a history of oral surgery.

Ancient History

References to dentistry go as far back as 5000 BC! A Sumerian text from this date in history describes “tooth worms” as the cause of tooth decay. The ancient Egyptians also wrote about teeth in their work and even offer remedies for toothaches and oral diseases. And both Aristotle and Hippocrates wrote about dentistry in their works, going so far as to discuss methods of tooth extraction and using wire to stabilize loose teeth and jaws.

The greatest advancements in dentistry in the ancient world came from the Etruscans. While the Etruscans are best known for their sculpture, they were also early innovators in the world of dental health. They were among the first civilizations to develop and use dental prosthetics, creating gold crowns and fixed bridgework.

Middle Ages

Dentistry became more commonplace over time, but its professionals came from a different industry altogether. The first dentists were barbers! In Europe barbers didn’t just cut hair, they also did tooth extractions. Much of the knowledge and methods of these “barber-surgeons” became more widespread after 1575. This is when Ambrose Pare publishes his Complete Works. Known as the Father of Surgery, Pare’s book contains all kinds of practical information about tooth extractions, treating tooth decay and how to fix jaw fractures.

The 18th Century

In 1723 a French surgeon by the name of Pierre Fauchard publishes The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth. It’s the first book to describe a comprehensive system for practicing dentistry, covering basic oral anatomy and function, operative and restorative dental techniques, and denture construction. Other French dentists push the field of dentistry further by experimenting with root canal procedures, developing stronger gold crowns, and creating porcelain teeth.

Another early innovator in the field of dentistry is none other than Paul Revere! The midnight rider was also a practicing dentist. He was able to identify the body of a friend on a battlefield by recognizing the bridgework he had made for him, which documents the first case of post-mortem dental forensics.

The 19th Century

The innovations keep on coming! Porcelain teeth start getting mass manufactured, the first reclining dental chair is invented, vulcanite dentures revolutionize the field and a substance called “amalgam filling” is created as the first known filling material for teeth. The world’s first dental journal, The American Journal of Dental Science, begins publication. The 19th century also ushers in the world’s first dental school, The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, and its first national dental organization: The American Society of Dental Surgeons.

Ether anesthesia gets developed for surgery during this period. Alabama passes the first dental practice art, which regulates dentistry in the U.S. James B. Morrison ends up changing the practice of dentistry forever by inventing the first commercially manufactured foot-treadle dental engine. This engine helps give dental tools enough speed and power to cut through enamel and dentin smoothly and quickly. And this is the century in which toothpaste was invented! At first people were afraid of this alternative to their powdered dentrifice, but within twenty years toothpaste in a tube became the norm around the nation.

The Twentieth Century… And Beyond

All the innovations of preceding centuries snowball and grow exponentially in this one. The twentieth century brings us so many changes that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Precision cast fillings, water fluoridation, nylon toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes, laser surgery procedures, dental implants, pinhole surgical techniques and so many other exciting and life-changing dental techniques in development. We can’t wait to see what future innovations will come about and how the field of dentistry will change and improve over the course of the 21st century.

To learn more about the history of oral surgery or schedule an appointment with one of our dentists, give Dental Specialty Associates a call at 602-795-5995.