In the early days, dentistry involved cleaning as well as extracting teeth. It also involved applying a dressing to a faulty tooth and using mouthwash to get relief from toothaches. Mostly, the cleaning of teeth involved scraping and using acids (which was done by barbers) to remove the dirt. To extract a tooth, a person needed to see a surgeon or blacksmith. They used to peddle their trade at open markets and fairs. All this took place in the thirteenth century.
In the eighteenth century, dentists became more knowledgeable about the way teeth were being taken care of. This was also the time when the practice of using gold fillings began. The use of artificial teeth began to become more widespread and also more sophisticated. Contrary to popular belief, George Washington, in fact, did not have wooden teeth. He did, in fact, have false teeth, but they were made of other items like gold, ivory, and lead. During his time, it was not common for dentists to use wood in dentures. Imagine the splinters you could get! And no one wants to wake up to termites eating your teeth. No, wood was not a commonly used substance in dentures at that time.
Other aspects of dentistry have changed over the years as well. Home care has taken a turn for the better. Toothpaste and the toothbrush have been subjects of much improvements. The earliest toothpaste actually had sugar as one of the ingredients and this, in fact, was contributing to further decay of the teeth instead of preserving the condition of the teeth. People used to chew in twigs and sticks before the toothbrush was invented. They would fray one end of the stick to “brush” their teeth and use the other end to pick them. These have been found in an Egyptian tomb from 3000 BC! Mention of utensils to clean teeth have been found in old Chinese records from 1600 BC. The oldest toothbrush discovered was in China and had bristles from a hog instead of the nylon ones we know today. With our high tech electronic toothbrushes, we sure have come a long way. And we no longer have to rely on sticks to pick our teeth. Handy dental floss is available in lots of different forms – and is very reasonably priced.
Thanks to the advancements in dentistry, it has now become possible for the average person to keep their original teeth well into their senior years. It is only because of the developments in science that people today can hold onto their teeth until a more advanced age. The history of dentistry shows that many of the improvements that have taken place in the way we care for our teeth have been achieved through using trial and error methods. So, it has been a rocky ride!
Over time, dentistry has undergone numerous changes, and society as a whole has benefited. National dental health became a major reason why further improvements in dental care took place. From toothpaste to toothbrushes to teeth whitening many new methods have emerged that have helped in keeping teeth clean, healthy and gleaming white!