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The History of Dentistry: Dental Care Through the Years

By Patrick Casey on September 30, 2016

A tooth with a digital ring around itThe team at our Montreal dental care center is always fascinated by the history of dentistry. It's rather incredible to trace the origins of modern restorative dentistry procedures into the past. The history of dental care goes back 7,000 years, if not more.

While a comprehensive overview of dentistry then and now is impossible in just one blog post, we do want to offer some information on major dental care accomplishments. Where better to start then the development of the toothbrush and toothpaste.

Development of the Toothbrush

The toothbrush is one of the most important objects in dentistry and general dental care. Most people do not realize that the history of the tooth brush goes back to 3500 BC. Rather than the handle with bristles we use today, people used an object known as a chew stick. One end of a twig was chewed on and frays in a brush-like shape, which the other end of the chew stick was used as a tooth pick.

The first bristle toothbrush, an ancestor to the modern toothbrush, dates back to the Tang Dynasty in China, roughly 619 to 917. The bristles on these toothbrushes were comprised of hog hair, though later brushes were comprised of horse hair.

In the 17th century, travelers in China finally brought the toothbrush back to Europe.

The modern toothbrush was born in 1938. This toothbrush used bristles made of nylon. The electric toothbrush was later developed in the early 1960s.

Development of Toothpaste

It may surprise you, but toothpaste predates the toothbrush. Early toothpastes date back to 5000 BC in Ancient Egypt. Other pastes to clean the teeth were used in the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome, India, and Europe. These pastes included abrasives to help polish teeth, such as ground oyster, powdered ox hooves, and burnt eggshells. Chew sticks or rags were used with these pastes to clean the teeth.

In the early 1800s into the middle of the century, tooth powders were the norm. Much like brushing with baking soda, these powders helped polish teeth and keep them clean. The modern toothpaste we think of today didn't come about until the 1850s in the form of a cream kept in a jar. By the 1880s, tubes for toothpaste were created, allowing for convenient storage.

Perhaps the last major innovation in toothpaste to note is the inclusion of fluoride. This happened in the 1950s.

Key Dental History Moments in the 18th Century

Some key moments in dentistry during the 1700s include the following:

  • 1723 – Pierre Fauchard publishes The Surgeon Dentist; his approach and insights on dental care result in Fauchard being considered the Father of Modern Dentistry
  • 1746 – Claude Mouton discusses the use of tooth-colored dental crowns to improve dental health and aesthetics
  • 1790 – John Greenwood develops a treadle-powered dental drill; Josiah Flagg develops a special dental chair for patients that makes dentistry procedures easier to perform

Key Dental History Moments in the 19th Century

Some key moments in dentistry during the 1800s include the following:

  • 1832 – James Snell creates the first reclining dental chair, further improving patient comfort while making life easier for dentists
  • 1846 – Dr. William Morton conducts the first successful public use of ether as anesthetic. Ether would be used in as such in surgeries and dental procedures.
  • 1859 – 26 dentists meet in Niagara Falls to found the American Dental Association
  • 1890 – Dr. Willoughby Miller idenntifies a link between tooth decay and oral bacteria
  • 1896 – Dr. C. Edmond Kells takes the first dental x-ray of a living person
  • 1899 – Dr. Edward Hartley identifies different types of tooth misalignment and malocclusion

Key Dental History Moments in the 20th Century

Some key moments in dentistry during the 1900s include the following:

  • 1905 – German chemist Alfred Einhorn creates a new anesthetic known as procain, which would become better known under its market name: Novocain
  • 1937 – A biocompatible dental screw made of Vitallium is created by Alvin Strock
  • 1945 – Water fluoridation begins in the cities of Newburgh, New York and Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • 1960s – Early soft tissue lasers are used for periodontal treatments and gum care
  • 1989 – The first teeth whitening product for at-home use if released

New Techniques and Technologies Keep Evolving

History is a never-ending process, so there are still major strides forward happening today. To learn more about the most recent advances in dentistry, we encourage you to schedule a consultation at our practice. We'd be more than happy to go over all of these matters in greater detail.

Learn More About Advanced Dental Care

To learn more about your options for advanced dental care, be sure to contact our cosmetic and restorative dentistry center today. The team at our practice is here to help you smile with renewed confidence.

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Westmount Office

4695 Rue Sherbrooke O
Westmount, QC H3Z 1G2

Open Today 7:00am - 3:00pm

More Info Directions (514) 937-6558