Visiting the dentist twice a year is now an accepted part of our life. It is part of our routine, and we assume that everyone else also sees their dentist regularly. But when did dentists become popular? Take a closer look at the rise of modern dentistry to discover the answer.
A Quick Overview of Ancient Dentistry
We know that humans have been concerned about the health of their teeth and mouths for thousands of years. There are records about tooth decay from 5000 B.C., which Sumerians thought was due to “tooth worms.” The title of the “first dentist” usually goes to Hesy-Re, an Egyptian scribe from 2600 BC whose tomb says, “The greatest of those who deal with teeth and of physicians.” There is even evidence of trying to treat loose teeth, jaw fractures, toothaches, and more from Celsus, a Roman writer from 100 B.C.
But most of these bits of dental history are very far removed from modern dentistry.
The Beginning of Modern Dentistry
Experts agree that modern dentistry began in the 18th century. There were several important milestones during this time, including those of Pierre Fauchard. This French surgeon published “The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth” in 1723. This was the very first book that comprehensively described dentistry and its practice. It included information on basic oral anatomy, the function of each component of oral anatomy, denture construction, and restorative and operative techniques. Fauchard also developed dental braces and multiple dental prostheses.
For those more interested in an American take on dentistry, John Baker was the first medically trained dentist who practiced in America. He immigrated and set up his practice in 1760. He was shortly joined by the first native-born American dentist, Isaac Greenwood, around 1760 to 1780.
From there, the 18th century saw numerous other advancements in dentistry, including:
- Paul Revere identified a deceased friend by his teeth (specifically a bridge he placed) in 1776. This was the first case of dental forensics postmortem.
- Nicolas Dubois de Chemant patented the first porcelain teeth in 1789.
- John Greenwood developed the first dental foot engine in 1790.
- Josiah Flagg created the first dental chair in 1790.
Dentistry was not well-regulated until late in the 19th century. 1878 saw the Dentist Act in the UK, with the British Dental Association forming the following year. The Ontario Dental Association had its first meeting in 1867 and created the Act Respecting Dentistry in 1868.
The first dental practice act in the United States was in Alabama. It was introduced in 1841 but was not very effective.
Another crucial moment in regulation was the founding of the National Association of Dental Examiners in 1883. They wanted to create uniform standards for dentists. They also oversaw licensing of dentists as well as the various dental practice acts that enforced licensing.
Modern Dentistry Advances in the 19th Century
The field of dentistry also saw numerous advances during the 19th century.
- The first dental book to be published in America, “Treatise on the Human Teeth,” was published in 1801.
- The S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company started commercially producing porcelain teeth in 1825.
- The first reclining dental chair was invented by James Snell in 1832.
- The Crawcour brothers created amalgam fillings between 1833 and 1850. (They turned out to be charlatans).
- The first dental journal, the American Journal of Dental Science, was first published in 1839.
- Charles Goodyear invented Vulcanite, which was used for false teeth in 1839.
- Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden founded the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery and the first DDS degree in 1840.
- The first national organization for dentists, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, was formed in 1840.
- William Morton successfully demonstrated ether anesthesia in 1846.
- The American Dental Association was formed in 1859.
- The Harvard University Dental School was founded in 1867, marking the first dental institution affiliated with a university. The school offered the DMD degree.
- George F. Green patented the first dental electric engine in 1871.
- Edward Hartley Angle classified the types of malocclusions in 1899.
Late 19th Century Advancements in Toothpaste
One of the biggest changes is how we approach dentistry, and oral health came in the 1880s. This was when tube toothpaste became a reality, thanks to the invention of collapsible metal tubing. Before this, individual dentists made most kinds of toothpaste in small quantities as toothpaste could only be stored and sold in paper boxes, bottles, or porcelain pots.
The new tubes made it possible to mass-produce toothpaste in factories and mass-market it. This led to it becoming standard in about 20 years.
Introducing the Idea of Dental Hygienists
C. Edmond Kells hired the first female dental assistant in 1885. She helped with the reception, inventory, bookkeeping, appointments, cleaning instruments, and chairside assistance. Juliette Southard would go on to found the American Dental Assistants Association in 1924.
The idea of dental hygienists arrived in 1907. A Connecticut dentist, Alfred Fones, had the idea. Fones understood that bacteria caused cavities, but those bacteria could be prevented with oral care. He decided to train Irene Newman, his cousin, in dental prophylaxis. She became the first dental hygienist. This led to Dr. Fones creating the first dental hygiene program in 1913. Compared to the existing dental assistants, dental hygienists had more training and knowledge of oral health.
The first graduates worked in school settings, teaching children about oral health. They were originally called “dental nurses,” but Dr. Fones later changed their title to the current one of “dental hygienists.”
Advances in Modern Dentistry in the 20th Century
Even more dental advances occurred during the 20th century. Just some of them include:
- Charles Land created the porcelain jacket crown in 1903.
- Alfred Einhorn developed procaine, which later became Novocain, in 1905.
- Greene Vardiman Black published “Operative Dentistry” in 1908. It was the go-to clinical text for half a century.
- The American Board of Orthodontics was created in 1930. It was the first specialty board for dentists.
- Alvin Strock used the first Vitallium screw implant in 1937.
- Nylon toothbrushes became available in 1938.
- Local governments began adding fluoride to their water in 1945.
The Bottom Line
Throughout most of human history, people had gone to the dentist only when the need arose. It was not until the last century or so that the connection between oral hygiene and oral health was widely accepted. This eventually led to people starting to visit the dentist regularly. Don’t forget to schedule your regular appointment with our affordable dentist in Chicago today!