In today’s world, we all accept that we must visit the dentist at least twice a year for regular cleanings and checkups. Most people are under the impression that dentists are a recent occupation, but this is far from the case. While our ancestors didn’t see their dentists nearly as frequently as you see Dr. Sharma, dentists have been around for thousands of years. Hesy-Ra, who lived in 2600 B.C., is considered the first dentist.
Hesy-Ra Was the Most Important Dentist of the Time
Technically, Hesy-Ra was not the only dentist of the time. But it seems that it may have been the most important, based on records and his tombs. The period in Egypt seems to have had two types of dentists. The lower class of dentists was the iryw-ibew. The elite dentists were the ir-iryw-ibew, and Hesy-Ra was in this second category. His fame and prestige likely came from being the first dentist for the 3rd Dynasty pharaohs.
On one level, Hesy-Ra primarily served the pharaohs as their dentist. But he was also unique because he cared about ordinary people. Records indicate that he cared about the oral health of workers in particular. There are indications he worried that poor oral health could delay the construction of pyramids.
We have Pharaoh Sahura to thank for our knowledge of Hesy-Ra. He ordered tablets engraved with Hesy-Ra’s name along with his title. The pharaoh even ordered Hesy-Ra’s face carved on the panels. This was an exceptional honor at the time.
These tablets make him the earliest dentist who was explicitly named. We know that others likely worked at the same time, but we don’t know their names.
In addition to being a dentist, Hesy-Ra was a high-ranking official and a priest. The following are some of the titles (translated into English):
- Great One of the Dentists
- Confidant of the King
- Great One of the “Ten of Upper Egypt”
- Great One of Peh
- Edler of the “Qed-hetep”
- Brother of Min
- Magician of Mehit
- Chief of the Scribes
What Else We Know About Hesy-Ra
Based on his titles and the tablets, historians have several educated guesses about other aspects of Hesy-Ra’s life. He could have been a professional ivory cutter, which is another translation of his title, “Great One of the Dentists.”
His tomb may be the reason that Hesy-Ra is most famous to those who don’t care about dentistry. It featured numerous richly decorated panels made from cedar wood. The panels depict him at three stages of life, with details such as wrinkles.
His tomb also had incredibly colorful wall paintings, both inside and out. They included red, black, green, yellow, and white. Not only were the paintings colorful, but they were very well preserved.
Hesy-Ra was the first person in recorded history to be explicitly called a dentist. He served pharaohs, and experts believe he also had an interest in general oral health. He is also well-known for his well-preserved tomb with colorful wall paintings and cedar panels.