Written by Danica Lacson on September 27, 2018
Dentistry is a field of medicine concerned with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of oral diseases, promotion of oral health, and maintenance and restoration of the oral cavity of people.
The history of dentistry traces its root to ancient civilization with the earliest indication of its practice dating back to 7,000 B.C. Below is the timeline of significant dates, discoveries, inventions, personalities, and advancements which are the keys that unlocked dentistry and its possibilities.
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- 5000 B.C. – “Tooth worms” were described in a Sumerian text as the cause of tooth decay.
- 2600 B.C. – Death of Hesy-Re, who is believed to be the first “dentist”
- 500 to 100 B.C. – Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Celsus write about dentistry and oral health
- 1530 – Artzney Buchlein, the first book entirely devoted to dentistry was published in Germany
- 1723 – Father of Modern Dentistry Pierre Fauchard published Le Chirurgien Dentiste, becoming the first to comprehensively describe the practice of Dentistry.
- 1790 – John Greenwood, one of George Washington’s dentists, makes the first known dental foot engine.
- 1825 – Samuel Stockton manufactures porcelain teeth.
- 1832 – The first reclining dental chair is invented by James Snell.
- 1833 – Edward Crawcour and his nephew Moses Crawcour introduce amalgam filling in the United States.
- 1839 – Charles Goodyear invents economical denture bases made of vulcanized rubber.
- 1840 – The world’s first dental school Baltimore College of Dental Surgery is founded by Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris.
- 1841 – The first dental practice act is enacted in Alabama.
- 1846 – William Morton conducts the first successful public demonstration of ether anesthesia use.
- 1880s – Tube toothpaste begins mass production and mass marketing.
- 1882 – Codman and Shurtleff makes un-waxed dental floss available for commercial use.
- 1895 – C. Edmond Kells takes the first dental X-ray in the US.
- 1899 – Forms of malocclusion are classified by Edward Hartley Angle.
- 1903 – Charles Land invents porcelain jacket crown.
- 1938 – Nylon toothbrushes enter the market.
- 1945 – Newburgh, New York and Grand Rapids, Michigan start water fluoridation of public water system.
- 1950 – Fluoride toothpaste is first marketed.
- 1957 – John Borden launches the era of high-speed dentistry with his Airotor.
- 1958 – A fully reclining dental chair is introduced.
- 1960 – The first commercial electric toothbrush appears in the United States.
- 1990 – The era of esthetic dentistry rises with new tooth-colored restorative materials, usage of bleaching, veneers, and implants.
- 21st century – Computer technology merges with dentistry for the diagnosis and treatment of dental diseases. Comprehensive research on oral health increases, and importance of dentistry to overall health is given more focus and inclusion in health care.
Dentistry And Early Civilizations
As early as 7,000 B.C., evidence of the existence of Dentistry was found with the Indus Valley Civilization, which grew in the basins of the Indus River during the Bronze Age.
Teeth from Indus Valley Civilization site Mehrgarh show signs of drilling, suggesting that people, particularly bead artisans, cured a toothache with drills made from flint heads as early as 9,000 years ago.
A 6,500-year-old human mandible from Slovenia also showed traces of dental filling with beeswax.
According to the research published in scientific journal PLOS ONE by the California-based organization Public Library of Science, the exposed dentin (a result of occlusal wear) and the upper part of a vertical crack affecting the enamel and dentin tissues were filled with beeswax, providing the earliest known evidence of therapeutic-palliative dental filling.
The descriptions related to dentistry and tooth decay from 5,000 B.C. were discovered. A Sumerian text found on clay and referred to as the “Legend of the Worm” described the source of tooth decay as tooth worms that drink blood and eat the bone of the teeth.
This uncanny belief was referred to by medical historians of ancient India, Egypt, Japan, and China as the cause of a toothache.
The “Legend of the Worm” was also found in the writings of Greek poet Homer and promoted by French physician and surgeon Guy de Chauliac.
The time 2,600 B.C. marked the death of Hesy-Re, a high court official in Egypt and often considered as the “first dentist.”
Auguste Mariette and Jacques de Morgan discovered and initially excavated the mastaba of Hesy-Re in 1861.
But, it was British Egyptologist James Edward Quibell who undertook the main excavation works between 1910 and 1912.
One of the panels discovered in Hesy-Re’s tomb indicated “Chief of Dentists and Physicians.” These are the earliest known titles relating to both dental surgery and medicine.
Recipes for the treatment of dental problems like a toothache, infections, and loose teeth spread through ancient Egyptian medical papyrus like Ebers Papyrus, Brugsch Papyrus, Kahun Papyri and Hearst Papyrus.
Another ancient Egyptian medical text believed to reflect previous manuscripts of early 3000 B.C. called the Edwin Smith Papyrus discussed treatment for jaw fracture and dislocation.
In ancient Mesopotamia’s Code of Hammurabi dating back to about 1754 B.C., punishment relating to dental extraction can be found.
The period between 500 B.C. to 300 B.C. saw Greek physician Hippocrates and Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle write about the eruption pattern of teeth, treatment of tooth decay and gum disease, tooth extraction using forceps, and the use of wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws.
Aside from Hippocrates and Aristotle, Roman encyclopaedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus also wrote extensively on oral hygiene, loose teeth stabilization, and treatments for teething pain, toothache, and fractures of the jaw in his medical treatise De Medicina around 100 B.C.
In 166 to 201 A.D., the wealthy and powerful civilization in ancient Italy, the Etruscans, were known to have practiced dental prosthetics using gold crowns and fixed bridgework.
Dentistry In The Middle Ages
By the Middle Ages, Dentistry is starting to gain its ground as an important practice separate from general medicine.
In 1210, a Guild of Barbers was established in France. Barbers evolved into two groups: surgeons and lay barbers.
Before this, monks in early Middle Ages served as dentists, but by early 12th century, the Church prohibited clergies from performing any surgeons.
In place of monks, barbers began performing surgeries like teeth extraction. However, 1400 saw royal decrees in France prohibiting lay barbers from practicing surgical procedures other than bleeding, cupping, leeching, and teeth extraction.
In 1530, the first book wholly devoted to dentistry was published in Germany. Titled The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth (Artzney Buchlein), covered topics such as oral hygiene, tooth extraction, teeth drilling, and placement of gold fillings.
Artzney Buchlein was then followed by France’s Father of Surgery Ambrose Pare’s work, Complete Works which include practical information on dentistry.
Dentistry As A Developing Profession In The 18th Century
The 18th century saw Dentistry developing as a profession beginning with Pierre Fauchard, who is considered the Father of Modern Dentistry for his 1723 book The Surgeon Dentist.
His book was the first text to describe a comprehensive system of Dentistry, including basic oral anatomy and function, as well as, operative and restorative techniques, and denture construction.
Fauchard’s contribution resulted in the expansion of the study of Dentistry.
In 1746, Claude Mouton described gold crown and a post which will be retained in the root canal. Also, he recommended white enameling for gold crowns for a more pleasing appearance.
Other than Fauchard and Moton, John Hunter also contributed to the study of Dentistry through the publication of the book The Natural History of Human Teeth wherein he gave a scientific basis to dental anatomy.
Before the 18th century closed, the first modern toothbrush was manufactured by English entrepreneur William Addis in 1780.
Advancement In Dentistry In The 19th Century
By the 19th century, significant advances in Dentistry have taken place.
English Goldsmith and dental manufacturer Claudius Ash applied his craftsmanship to dentures that propelled the foundation of Britain’s foremost manufacturer of dentures and dental appliances.
In 1831, James Snell created the first specifically-designed dental chair which featured a reclining seat.
The growth of Dentistry prompted the government to pass a regulation like the Dentist Act of 1878 in the United Kingdom and establish organizations like the American Dental Association in 1859.
Aside from laws, schools were also founded with the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1840 as the first dental college.
The 1880s saw the mass production of tube toothpaste.
In 1896, New Orleans dentist C. Edmond Kells took the first dental X-ray of an individual in the United States.
The year 1899 added new knowledge to Dentistry with the classification of the various forms of malocclusion by Edward Hartley Angle who is also credited with making orthodontics a dental specialty.
Dental Innovations In The 20th Century to Present
In 1900, Angle established Angle School of Orthodontia in St. Louis, the first school of orthodontics. Aside from Angle School, he also founded the first orthodontic society in 1901 and the first dental specialty journal in 1907.
The 20th century was an era of innovations in techniques and technology in Dentistry, starting with Charles Land’s porcelain jacket crown, Alfred Einhorn’s local anesthetic procaine in 1905, and William Taggart’s “lost wax” casting machine for an increase in precision in cast fillings in 1907.
Leading educator of American Dentistry, Green Vardiman Black published his two-volume treatise Operative Dentistry in 1908 which remains as the essential clinical dental text for 50 years.
In 1938, the first nylon toothbrush made with synthetic bristles appeared on the market, and in 1950, the first fluoride toothpaste entered the market, as well.
The first commercial electric toothbrush began its production in 1960 in Switzerland.
Since then, more developments in the study of Dentistry took place.
Also, techniques and technologies on the practice continue to advance and cater the dental needs of the people by the constant improvements in Dentistry.
Disclaimer: The oral health information published on this web page is solely intended for educational purposes. Hawaii Family Dental strongly recommends to always consult licensed dentists or other qualified health care professionals for any questions concerning your oral health.
- American Dental Association. (n.d.). History of Dentistry Timeline. Retrieved from American Dental Association Website: http://www.ada.org/en/about-the-ada/ada-history-and-presidents-of-the-ada/ada-history-of-dentistry-timeline
- Carrington College. (n.d.). The Dawn of Dentistry. Retrieved from Carrington College Website: http://carrington.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/The-History-of-Dentistry-Infographic.jpg
- Kruszelnicki, K. (2001, March 30). News in Science. Retrieved from Australian Broadcasting Corporation Website: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2001/03/30/268342.htm