The History of Braces

September 29, 2021


Today, braces are a normal part of life for many people. It is not unusual for teens or even adults to have braces, and they seem ever-present in our lives. That said, most people mistakenly think of braces as a modern invention. While the versions we use today are indeed modern, humans have used braces for thousands of years!

The Earliest Braces

Some of the earliest indications of braces come from ancient Egypt. Archaeologists have found crude braces on mummies from this time and culture. This is particularly impressive given that ancient Egypt included as long as 3000 B.C., meaning some of these early attempts could have been up to 5,000 years ago.

Instead of the metal wires we use today, ancient Egyptian braces were made from animal skin that early dentists turned into a cord. This cord was called “catgut.” Interestingly, the overall design and attachment style for the catgut was very similar to how orthodontists and dentists like Dr. Sharma attach metal braces today.

Other Early Orthodontics

While the Egyptian mummies with braces are the earliest indications of braces, they are far from the only ones. They are also not the only sign of ancient orthodontic procedures. One example comes from about 1000 B.C. in Greece. The ancient Etruscans created devices similar to mouth guards and placed these on the teeth of deceased people. This prevented the teeth from inward collapse over time.

The writings of Aristotle and Hippocrates also include theories on straightening teeth in addition to fixing other dental problems.

First Records of Braces and Teeth Straightening

We already discussed the earliest archaeological evidence of braces. But since that knowledge came from a purely archaeological standpoint, we don’t know why the ancient Egyptians used them. We can only make educated guesses.

The first actual record comes from ancient Rome. These come from Aulus Cornelius Celsus, who kept records of trying to straighten teeth. His records share how he tried to use his hands to straighten teeth, relying solely on his strength. He would apply pressure in strategic locations to get results. As odd as it seems to us today that you could just push teeth into place by hand, Celsus documented success. Of course, we only have his word for it.

Other records from ancient Roman times, however, let us know that Celsus was not alone in his attempts. Archaeologists have found burials from the time with the remains of thin gold wires on the remains of teeth. These wires are called ligature wires. Experts believe that they were for straightening the teeth, making them one of the earlier braces.

French Dentistry Advances in the Early 1700s

The major advances in braces came at the same time as other major breakthroughs in dentistry, as part of the French dentistry renaissance in the early 1700s.

This period saw two important books being published. In 1728, Pierre Fauchard wrote “The Surgeon Dentist.” The book included orthodontic information, including descriptions of several ways of straightening teeth. He also created the “Bandeau.” This device resembled a mouthguard and theoretically helped keep teeth where they were supposed to be. It is one of the first instances of modern orthodontics. In fact, it is part of why many people consider Fauchard to be the inventor of modern orthodontics.

Pierre Bourdet was the King of France’s dentist. In 1757, he wrote the other important book of the time, “The Dentist’s Art.” This also included an upgrade to the Bandeau created by Fauchard, with several improvements. Bourdet also discovered that the wisdom teeth could cause overcrowding in the mouth and that overcrowding could lead to crooked teeth. He also noted that removing teeth could help with jaw growth.

Both books are considered crucial advancements in dentistry and orthodontics.

The First Modern Braces and the 19th Century

In 1819, Christophe-Francois Delabarre created the first set of braces that had a more modern design. This design used a wire crib placed right over the teeth. This design was improved over the next few decades, bringing it a step closer to modern braces each time. In 1843, Dr. Edward Maynard improved jaw alignment with elastics cut from rubber tubing, an element that is still commonly used with braces. Then, in 1846, E.J. Tucker made the braces more comfortable.

In 1858, Normal William Kingsley, a dentist, sculptor, artist, and writer, wrote the first article dedicated to orthodontics. He wrote a book called “Treatise on Oral Deformities” in 1880. John Nutting Farrar is another dentist and author from the time. He wrote “A Treatise on the Irregularities of the Teeth and Their Corrections,” a two-volume book. He was also the first to suggest using mild force across time intervals to shift teeth.

The 19th century also saw the invention of the modern dental dam by Dr. S.C. Barnum. Dental dams are thin latex pieces that go around the teeth and protect the gums while a dentist or orthodontist works on the teeth. A modern version is still used today, and they are very common in orthodontics. In modern orthodontics, dental dams are essential for fitting braces without accidentally damaging gums.

Despite all these advances, during the 1800s and until the 1890s, it was still widely believed that the only successful methods of straightening teeth involved removing a few.

The Early 1900s

Edward Angle developed the malocclusion classification system during the early 20th century. This lets orthodontists and dentists describe the extent to which teeth are crooked. He was also the founder of the American Society of Orthodontia in 1901. In 1907, he founded the first journal of orthodontics.

The 1970s

Many experts say that the 1970s is when dentistry advanced significantly. This was when orthodontics had multiple breakthroughs. One was the dental adhesive that became widely used to attach brackets to the teeth for braces. This adhesive reduced the pain and damage from braces. The other major contribution of the time was stainless steel. This combination of advances also meant that people didn’t have to wear braces for as long to see results.

Modern orthodontics is more effective and less painful than our ancestor’s earlier attempts, as well as being more science-based. As you visit Dr. Sharma for orthodontics in Lincoln Square, you will likely have a greater appreciation for modern orthodontics with this history in mind.


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