You Won’t Believe These Historical Facts About Dentistry

June 9, 2021

You are likely familiar with modern dentistry as you see Dr. Dhiraj Sharma twice a year for your cleanings and checkups. Most people are also aware of modern dentistry procedures, such as having wisdom teeth removed or having a root canal. But what about historic dentistry?

Taking a look at some of the weirdest historical facts about dentistry will make you glad that you live in the modern era and show how far this profession has come.

A Quick History

Before getting into the crazy facts about dentistry that seem out of place today, consider a very brief history of dentistry. This will help you put the facts in context.

There’s evidence of dentistry as long ago as 7000 B.C. and descriptions in records from 5000 B.C. There are plenty of ancient Greek writings about dentistry as well. In the 1700s, the role of dentists was more clearly defined. The first dental college opened in 1840, with the American Dental Association founded in 1859.

With that context in mind, here are some interesting facts you may not believe.

The First Dentist

The very first dentist ever is considered to be Hesy-Re, who practiced around 2600 B.C. He was also an Egyptian scribe. We know he was what we would consider a dentist, thanks to the inscription on his tomb. It read, “the greatest of those who deal with teeth and of physicians.”

Dental Fillings From Thousands of Years Ago

Based on archaeological evidence, we know that people who lived about 6,500 years ago had dental fillings. One 6,500-year-old human jaw studied by Claudio Tuniz in Italy had a filling made of beeswax. Experts agree that the beeswax would have worked fairly well, especially with its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

King Tut

Part of the reason we know that King Tut was about 19 years old when he died is his teeth. Scientists evaluated his wisdom teeth to estimate his age.

Early Writings About Dentistry and Teeth

We know that humans have been aware of dentistry and dental health for thousands of years based on numerous writing throughout the years.

These include the Ebers Papyrus from around 1700 to 1550 B.C. This Egyptian text mentioned toothache remedies and tooth diseases. Writings by famous philosophers like Aristotle and Hippocrates from 500 to 300 B.C. also mentioned dentistry. Based on those writings, we know that our ancestors treated gum disease and decayed teeth, extracted teeth, and used wires to help stabilize fractured jaws and loose teeth.

A 100 B.C. compendium from the Roman medical writer Celsus featured a lot of information on oral hygiene, as well as treatments for jaw fractures and toothache.

Writings from 166 to 201 A.D. show that the Etruscans used dental prosthetics, including bridgework and gold crowns.

A Chinese medical text from 700 B.C. mentions using a “silver paste” as an amalgam. 

Ancient Greek Toothpaste

We know that in ancient Greece, people then used toothpaste. Around 500 B.C., those in Greece, along with people in India and China, all used a variation of toothpaste. We know one version featured soot, water, and gum Arabic.

If you go back even further, we know that at least some ancient Egyptians used toothpaste made from dried iris flower, pepper grains, salt, and mint in 400 A.D.

George Washington’s Dentures

Most people have heard the “fact” that George Washington had wooden teeth. In reality, his dentures featured human teeth (including those stolen from the mouths of slaves), as well as fake teeth made from elephant ivory, hippo tusks, and gold.

The First Dentistry Book

The very first dentistry book was published in 1530. It was called “The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth.”

Tooth Worms

As long ago as 5000 B.C. and as recently as about the 1700s, people thought that tooth decay was due to “tooth worms.” We know this, thanks to a Sumerian text from 5000 B.C. that explicitly blames tooth worms for the decay.

Early Toothbrushes

The precursor to current toothbrushes was made of tree twigs. People would chew on the tips, which spread the fibers out. Then, they could clean the teeth with them.


During the Middle Ages, a common profession was barber-surgeon. These were the typical barbers, but they also pulled teeth.

This trend began as far back as 1210 when France established a Guild of Barbers. Barber-surgeons or lay barbers took care of routine tasks, like extracting teeth and bleeding. The other members of the Guild of Barbers eventually became surgeons.

The Father of Modern Dentistry

Pierre Fauchard is considered the father of modern dentistry. In 1723, this French surgeon published “The Surgeon Dentist, a Treatise on Teeth.” This was the first book to ever provide a comprehensive outline for caring for teeth and treating them. He was also the first to identify sugar as a cause of tooth decay and introduce the ideas of dental prosthesis and fillings.

Paul Revere

Most people know Paul Revere for warning that the British were coming. He was also a trained dentist. His trainer was none other than John Baker, the first dentist in America. Revere also has another dentistry claim to fame. He was the first (recorded) to use dental forensics after someone’s death. He recognized Dr. Joseph Warren based on a bridge in his mouth.

The First Licensed Female Dentist

The honor of being the first licensed female dentist goes to Lucy Beaman Hobbs in 1866. After being rejected from attending medical school, she turned to dentistry.

The First Mass-produced Toothpaste

The title of the first mass-produced toothpaste goes to Colgate, which introduced it in 1873.

Novocaine’s Invention

When you have a dental procedure, you definitely want novocaine, if not a general anesthetic. This has only been an option since 1903. That was when Alfred Einhorn, a German chemist, created the first local anesthetic, procaine.

Modern Toothbrushing Habits

It wasn’t common for Americans to brush their teeth regularly until following World War II. During the war, soldiers had to brush twice every day. This was one of the hygiene requirements meant to reduce the spread of germs, rotten teeth, and other issues from living in close quarters. (Another requirement was bathing weekly.) That habit continued when the soldiers returned home.

Dentists Using Four Hands Is a Modern Practice

Until fairly recently, dentists would not routinely use an extra set of hands while performing dental work. Most modern dentists follow the principle of “sit down, four hands,” but that only gained traction in the 1960s. Before this, dentists would examine teeth alone, without the assistance of a dental hygienist or similar.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with the best dentist in Chicago, contact American Dental today.


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