Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Brief History of Early Dentistry

The Wikipedia entry on dentistry defines the subject as “the branch of medicine that is involved in the study, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of diseases, disorders and conditions of the oral cavity, the maxillofacial area and the adjacent and associated structures, and their impact on the human body.” It seems a long-winded definition, but it covers all the bases – dentistry involves not only teeth but also gums and the whole oral cavity region.

With this definition in place it is possible to look back through historical records to discover the history of early dentistry. The earliest recorded evidence of dental work is found in the Indus Valley Civilization (7000 BC). They treated tooth problems with a basic tool called a bow drill that was also used to start fires and drill holes in hard stones. It is not surprising that some of the earliest records of human civilization contain details about treating teeth; after all, toothache is painful and persistent if not treated. More surprising is that reconstructions of these early dental procedures show they were effective.

A Sumerian text dated at 5000 BC mentions ‘tooth worms’ as the cause of dental caries or dental cavity. The belief that worms destroyed teeth persisted until the Fourteenth Century.

In Slovenia, a manuscript dating to 4500 BC details the earliest cavity filling using beeswax.

Records have come to light showing during the Pharaonic period (3200 BC to 30 BC) dental prosthetics and surgery was performed These procedures were also attempted by the Greeks and the Romans.

The ancient Greeks were marvelous scientists: Aristotle and Hippocrates write about tooth decay and gum disease. It is the Etruscans in 700 BC who are credited with making the first bridges.

In the Far East there is a manuscript dating to the Tang Dynasty credited to Su Kung (659 AD) describing dental amalgams. An amalgam is a mixture of mercury and other metals to fill in a dental cavity.

During the Middle Ages dentistry was often carried out by barbers, especially tooth extraction. In 1530 the first book dedicated to dentistry was circulated – ‘Artzney Buchelin’.

It was between 1650 and 1800 that modern dentistry can be said to have developed although all the above precedents no doubt had an impact on subsequent breakthroughs and misconceptions.

Pierre Fauchard in the 17th Century is credited as being “the father of modern dentistry’. He developed techniques for dealing with dental caries; he introduced fillings; and also dental prosthesis.

Since Fauchard, dentistry quickly became recognized as a distinct form of medicine requiring specialist training. It is from this beginning that we can trace the development of European and American dentistry. However, that is not to say that at the dawn of human civilization they hadn’t already found methods of treating dental problems. Such is the ingenuity of mankind and his relentless desire to master the natural world through science.

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