Last month we looked at the history of the smile which took us on a fun journey! Now we’ll take a look at the history of dentistry itself, another intriguing journey in and of itself. For example, did you know there is an ancient Sumerian text that describes “tooth worms” as the cause of tooth decay? Or that the world’s first dental school was started in Bainbridge, Ohio? There’s a long and storied history behind the profession of dentistry!
Researchers have traced dentistry back to ancient Egypt back at 7500 B.C. The ancient Egyptians were the first to have replacement teeth, which are the forerunners of modern dentures and crowns. In fact, the first named dentist was Egyptian scribe, Hesy-Re, whose tomb included the inscription “the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians.”
Next came the Greeks who exhibited curiosity about dental health and devised different techniques for addressing tooth maladies. Hippocrates (of “Hippocratic Oath” fame) and Aristotle both wrote about dentistry. Hippocrates wrote about the “radical” new method he had developed for treating patients’ teeth woes. This radical method? Instead of praying to the gods for healing, Hippocrates recommended
observing a patient’s problem, then making a practical recommendation for treatment. Aristotle wrote descriptions of tooth growth, tooth decay, and gum disease and developed treatment methods, such as using forceps to pull teeth and using wires to attach loose teeth. Other notable Greek dental advancements included discovering that teeth are made of bone with nerves inside and the recommendation of regular oral hygiene by rubbing teeth and gums to improve oral health.
As dentistry grew in popularity it began to include dental surgery procedures. During the Middle Ages, monks carried out surgical procedures because they were the most educated class. However, the Church ended up banning monks from performing a variety of duties such as extracting teeth and surgeries, so it was up to barbers to take up the mantle, due to their expertise with sharp shaving blades. (Yes, we said barbers. No joke.) They had been helping the monks before but now they became the chief providers of dentistry. Isn’t history WEIRD??
In 1530, the first book entirely about dentistry was published, Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth (which is quite the title!). Published in German, it was a pretty big deal and covered oral hygiene, tooth extraction, drilling teeth, and placement of gold fillings. In 1575, a French surgeon named Ambrose Pare — known as the “Father of Surgery” — published his “Complete Works,” which included surgical dentistry techniques. English speakers were not to be left out though – in 1685, Charles Allen published the first dental textbook in English, “The Operator for the Teeth”.
Join us in the “History Of Dentistry Part #2” continued in our next blog, which dives into the beginning of modern dentistry and how it unraveled and where we are at now. Until then, remember to brush for a minimum of 2x per day, floss regularly, and don’t forget to SMILE! =)