When people hear the word dentistry, they probably think of cleaning teeth and dental procedures while not considering its history. But the history of dentistry dates to ancient Egypt back at 7500 B.C.
Ancient Egyptians were the first people to have replacement teeth. These are the harbingers of modern dentures and crowns. Tooth decay was also recognized to be an issue as around 5000 B.C., a Sumerian text described “tooth worms” as causing decay.
The question of how long has dental disease existed can be traced back to the Ebers Papyrus and Egyptian text. It refers to tooth diseases and toothache remedies.
Hippocrates and Aristotle also wrote about dentistry. They covered topics including gum disease and treated decayed teeth along with tooth extraction, tooth stabilization, and jaw fractures.
Records dating back as far as 700 AD show the Chinese first using a “silver paste” as a type of amalgam.
By 1210, barbers in France were not only cutting hair and giving shaves, but they were also performing surgeries and tooth extractions.
In 1530, the first book dedicated completely to dentistry was published in Germany. Artzney Buchlein authored “The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth.” The book was written for barbers and surgeons who treat the mouth. Topics included oral hygiene, drilling and extracting teeth, and placing gold fillings.
The 1700s marked the emergence of dentistry as a profession. This is when a French surgeon named Pierre Fauchard published “The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth.” Fauchard is considered the father of modern dentistry since his book detailed a basic system to practice dentistry.
How did They Brush Their Teeth in the 1700s?
William Addis of England invented the first somewhat modern toothbrush around 1780. The brush was made from swine bristles, while the handle was carved from cattle bone.
Modern dental concepts started to take shape in the 1800s. Samuel Stockton began commercial manufacturing of porcelain teeth in 1825, while James Snell invented the first reclining dental chair in 1832.
The world’s first dental journal, the American Journal of Dental Science, started publishing in 1839. In that same year, Charles Goodyear invented the hardening rubber process. This produced an inexpensive material easily molded to the mouth. It also provided an excellent base for false teeth. Dentists began incorporating it into their practices a short time later.
Other advancements included the formation of the American Dental Association, the invention of the toothpaste tube, and the use of x-rays in dentistry.
Teeth didn’t look as good in the 1800s as they do today. Newly discovered treatment methods of the time included silver fillings, rubber denture bases, and porcelain inlays.
Technology really started to shape dentistry in the 1900s. Charles Land developed the porcelain jacket crown, Novocaine came into existence, and precision cast fillings were invented by William Taggart.
Nylon toothbrush usage and water fluoridation by municipalities became commonplace. A system for bonding acrylic resin to dentin was also developed.
Who was the First Dentist?
The first dentist is believed to be an Egyptian scribe named Hesy-Re. He can be traced back to 2600 B.C.
Archaeologists determined that he was a high-ranking official who served Pharaoh Djoser. He held the title of “Chief of Dentists.” The phrase “the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians” was inscribed on his tomb.
Robert Tanner Freeman
Dr. Robert Tanner Freeman became the first African-American to earn a dental degree. He graduated first in his class from Harvard Dental School in 1869 – just four years after the Civil War ended.
The child of slaves, as a child Dr. Freeman met Henry Bliss Noble, a white dentist working in the District of Columbia. Freeman worked as an apprentice under Dr. Noble. Freeman opened his own practice in Washington, D.C., upon graduating from Harvard.
Paul Revere is known for being one of the most ardent patriots and key figures of the American Revolution. But he also knew a thing or two about teeth.
Revere first advertised in 1768 that he could not only clean teeth but also wire into place fake ones made from ivory or animal teeth. He learned the skills from a surgeon-dentist named John Baker.
Lucy Beaman Hobbs
Lucy Hobbs became the first woman to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 1866. While teaching in Michigan, Hobbs developed an interest in medicine. She attempted to enroll in the Eclectic Medical College in Cincinnati but was denied by the school. They suggested she opt for dentistry.
She began learning from Jonathan Taft, Dean of the Ohio College of Dental Surgery, until another teacher took her on. The Ohio faculty denied her admission in 1861, so Hobbs opened her own practice as few dentists had degrees at that time.
After starting her own practice in Iowa, the Iowa State Dental Society granted Hobbs membership in 1865. The Ohio College of Dental Surgery finally admitted Hobbs as a student. The school granted her credit for her years of practice, so she was only required to complete one session. Hobbs graduated in 1866.
Irene Newman is the name that answers the question: who was the first dental hygienist?
Back in the 1880s, “dental nurse” was the phrase used to describe someone who provided prophylaxis treatment as a disease prevention method. By 1906, Irene Newman was training as an apprentice to Alfred C. Fones. Newman learned to scale and polish teeth. But Fones disliked “dental nurse.” So he opted to call Newman a dental hygienist.
Dr. Fones trained a total of 97 dental hygiene students in three classes. Those hygienists were eventually licensed and allowed to practice. Connecticut was the first state to allow trained dental hygienists to perform prophylaxis treatment. The state amended its dental practice act in 1915 to include the regulation of dental hygienists. Dentists in other states soon followed suit; thus, dentists began regulating dental hygiene standards.
Evolution Oral Surgery
The evolution of oral surgery is due to advances in technology. Two of the biggest components in the evolution are numbing agents, such as Novocaine and nitrous oxide, and a hand-held, high-powered drill. Together, both devices allowed dentists to access and treat tooth decay issues that could only possibly be solved centuries ago by complete tooth extraction.
Today, procedures including extractions, fillings, crowns, bridges, root canals, implants, and wisdom teeth removal are all possible due to technological advances.
Who Invented the First Dental Chair?
As with other dental technologic aspects, the dental chair has become more advanced through the years. In 1790, an American dentist named Josiah Flagg invented the dental chair. It featured an extended armrest that held dental instruments. The chair also had an adjustable headrest that made patients more comfortable.
The first fully-reclining dental chair wasn’t invented until a little more than 150 years later, in 1958.
When was Novocaine Invented?
Novocaine was first produced by German chemist Alford Einhorn in 1905. Einhorn gave the anesthetic the name Novocaine from the Latin; nov, meaning new, and caine, which is a common ending for alkaloids.
Einhorn originally invented it to be used for amputations. He was disappointed when he discovered dentists were using it for procedures, so he discouraged dentists from doing so.
When was Mouthwash Invented?
Mouthwash was developed in the late 1800s. Most mouthwashes initially contained alcohol. Modern mouthwashes contain other germ-killing properties, such as cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC).
Find a Dentist Near Me
Consult your dentist to discuss any questions about keeping your teeth healthy and clean. You can even chat about some of the more interesting dental history facts. Or, check out The Smile Generation to find a dentist near you for all your oral health needs. You can read patient reviews, peruse staff bios, and schedule an appointment online with a click of your mouse.
History of Dentistry, American Dental Association, https://www.ada.org/resources/ada-library/dental-history
Evolution of Dental Services – A History of Dentistry, Dental One Associates, https://www.dentalone-md.com/evolution-of-dental-services-a-history-of-dentistry/
Hesy-Ra: History’s First Dentist, University Associates in Dentistry, November 30, 2016, https://blog.uadchicago.com/blog/2016/11/hesy-ra-historys-first-dentist/
Benjamin, Winston, Robert Tanner Freeman, Black Past, January 18, 2007, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/freeman-robert-tanner-1846-1873/
Paul Revere, America’s First Forensic Dentist, New England Historical Society, https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/paul-revere-americas-first-forensic-dentist/
Lucy Beaman Hobbs Taylor, Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry, University of Michigan School of Dentistry, https://www.sindecusemuseum.org/lucy-beaman-hobbs-taylor
Dental hygiene's grand history, RHD Magazine, July 1, 2010, https://www.rdhmag.com/career-profession/article/16407684/a-history-of-the-dental-hygiene-profession
History, Novocanie-Weebly, February 5, 2014, https://novocanie.weebly.com/history?c=mkt_w_chnl:aff_geo:all_prtnr:sas_subprtnr:1538097_camp:brand_adtype:txtlnk_ag:weebly_lptype:hp_var:358504&sscid=81k6_jz1wa
The History of Mouthwash, Oral-B, https://oralb.com/en-us/oral-health/why-oral-b/rinse/history-mouthwash/
History of Dental Hygiene, Crest, https://crest.com/en-us/oral-care-tips/oral-hygiene/history-dental-hygiene
The History of Dentistry, Colgate, March 24, 2022, https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/dental-visits/the-history-of-dentistry