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Health Practises From History Back to All Pages »

The History Of Dentistry

Dental Cosmos: Campbell, 1880 (Rubber Plates)

The 20th and the 21st century have been full of technological advances like x-rays, teeth whitening, easy and painless extraction methods, making dentistry even more efficient and safe. It is also available to everyone- not just the elite citizenship, so now everyone can get access to proper dental care. You can even find a dental clinic online that offers everything from dental care advice, to surgical implants. Lets look at what happened back in History to our trusted dental patients.

‘Dental grooming’ instruments are thought to have been around since 3500 BC when Egyptians and Babylonians chewed on special type of stick called ‘Miswak’. The healing and antiseptic qualities of this herbal chewing stick, was able to kill bacteria that formed in one’s mouth, and the fibers that formed served as a make-shift brush, that the people would then use to clean the surfaces of their teeth, and in fact, there are studies that indicate that this herbal chewing stick may actually be more effective than our present day toothbrushes.

Researchers have traced Dentistry as far back as 7500 B.C, and today the Miswak may still be in use in some parts of Africa, but by the early 1500s, a new method had been widely adopted, and it involved the use of animal hairs. This concept is believed to have originated from China, where dentists would pluck hairs off cold climate pigs and paste them unto a bamboo stick or animal bones. Other options would include bird feathers, porcupine quills, and boar bristles. These, as you can imagine, were very tough on the gums, and an alternative method, developed amongst Europeans, where a linen cloth or sponge dipped in sulphur oils and salt solutions was used to rub the teeth. This method, while not the best, was especially popular because it was cheaper for the masses who could not afford the boar bristles or hairs.

Books: Dental History: Miscellanea

It wasn’t until the late 1780s when William Addis , inventor of the modern toothbrush, was able to refine the invention he had devised from used bones and bristles whilst he was imprisoned, to give us the tool we use today. Mass produced and sold all over the world. Then, it was made of cow tail hair drilled and tied to a cow bone, however when the war began bones weren’t always easy to come by, and that’s when the handles began to be manufactured with celluloid. That was when the DuPont de Nemours company introduced the first nylon bristles.

"You might have thought the electric toothbrush was a recent concept, so it would definitely come as a surprise to find that it was invented over 60yrs ago, becoming commercial in 1960." - Dental Experts The Dental Suite

So how do you think they handled tooth decay in the past?

Tooth decay was believed to be caused by ‘dental worms’, and if you needed to have your tooth extracted, it was carried out with forceps and later a “dental key”, an instrument that was modelled like a corkscrew and just as practical when it came to removing teeth. All this was usually done in mild to excruciating agony, because anaesthesia had not yet been discovered by Dr. Horace Wells.