The History of dentistry
The history of dental medicine
When talking about the history of dental medicine, we cannot be certain what is true and what not
because a fair amount of what we know about it is pure speculation. As far as we know based on the
evidence we have to work with, the Egyptians have, around 2900 and 2750 BC, performed the oldest
known dental procedure; presumably, the attempted to drain the fluids from an abscessed tooth by
drilling holes into the jaw. The “Papyrus Ebers”, written between 1700 and 1500 BC, contain
information going as far back as 3700BC, detailing instruction on how to treat various ailments,
including some dental problems.
Wealthy Europeans in the Middle Ages had the option of retaining a doctor for house calls; those
also performed dental procedures. These included treating decay in the oral cavity with metal rods,
which was manually rotated in order to drill a hole. The poorer part of the population sought help for
their dental issues with the so-called “barber-surgeons”; people who usually cut hair, had no real
education, but sometimes performed minor surgeries and used leeches for blood-letting. In most
cases, decayed teeth were simply pulled.
During the mass migration to America in the 1700s, dentists also left Europe. When they settled in,
many worked on tooth extractions and artificial dental replacements. The majority of early dentures
were made out of ivory, in combination with some precious metal, usually silver or gold (fun fact,
Paul Revere was a metalworker who made dentures out of ivory and gold). Due to the materials
used, dentures were fairly expensive. To clear things up, George Washington did not have wooden
teeth; his denture was made out of metal and either ivory or carved cow teeth.
Dr. Horace Wells of Connecticut got the idea of using nitrous oxide as an aesthetic from an
exhibition where people inhaled it in 1844. Greene Vardiman Black invented a dental drill powered
by a foot engine soon after, thus freeing a dentist`s hands when drilling. Another of his contributions
was the observation and proposal that the large amount of bacteria on the teeth cause periodontal
disease and dental caries. His theory stayed unproven until scientific evidence supporting his claims
was found in the 1960s.
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