A Brief History of Dentistry

(Wikipedia )

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Farmer at the dentist, Johann Liss, c. 1616-17.

Evidence of ancient dentistry has recently been found in a Neolithic graveyard in the Indus River basin of Pakistan. Teeth dating from around 7000 to 5500 BC show evidence of holes from dental drills. The teeth were found in people of the Indus Valley Civilization.

A Sumerian text from 5000 BC describes a “tooth worm” as the cause of dental caries. Evidence of this belief has also been found in ancient India, Egypt, Japan, and China. The legend of the worm is also found in the writings of Homer, and as late as the 1300s AD the surgeon Guy de Chauliac still promoted the belief that worms cause tooth decay.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus, written in the 17th century BC but which may reflect previous manuscripts from as early as 3000 BC, includes the treatment of several dental ailments.

In the 18th century BC, the Code of Hammurabi referenced the practice of dental extraction twice as it related to punishment.

Examination of the remains of some ancient Egyptians and Greco-Romans reveals early attempts at dental prosthetics and surgery.

Ancient Greek scholars Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, including the eruption pattern of teeth, treating decayed teeth and gum disease, extracting teeth with forceps, and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws.

The first use of dental appliances or bridges comes from the Etruscans from as early as 700 BC.

Roman medical writer Cornelius Celsus wrote extensively of oral diseases as well as dental treatments such as narcotic-containing emollients and astringents.

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Medieval dentist extracting a tooth. London; c. 1360-75.

Historically, dental extractions have been used to treat a variety of illnesses. During the Middle Ages and throughout the 19th century, dentistry was not a profession in itself, and often dental procedures were performed by barbers or general physicians. Barbers usually limited their practice to extracting teeth, which not only resulted in the alleviation of pain, but often cured a variety of ailments linked to chronic tooth infection. Instruments used for dental extractions date back several centuries. In the 14th century, Guy de Chauliac invented the dental pelican (resembling a pelican’s beak) which was used up until the late 18th century. The pelican was replaced by the dental key which, in turn, was replaced by modern forceps in the 20th century.



The first book focused solely on dentistry was the “Artzney Buchlein” in 1530, and the first dental textbook written in English was called “Operator for the Teeth” by Charles Allen in 1685. It was between 1650 and 1800 that the science of modern dentistry developed. It is said that the 17th century French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today, and he has been named “the father of modern dentistry”. Among many of his developments were the extensive use of dental prosthesis, the introduction of dental fillings as a treatment for dental caries and the statement that sugar derivate acids such as tartaric acid are responsible for dental decay.

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Dental Surgery of 1940s and 1950s

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Dentist chair of today