Dental Health Topics

When Did We Start Doing That? Fun Oral Health History!

When Did We Start Doing That? Fun Oral Health History!

Did you know oral health care once fell to the local barber? Or, that people used to think tooth decay was caused by worms? Yuck! History is informative and fun. And, the beginning of the year marks the start of a new term of scientific discovery ...who knows what will be in store for us this year. Maybe we’ll happen upon a super-awesome way to take care of our teeth this year. Or, maybe if you keep flossing, we won’t need better technology at all! ;-) Let’s see what history has in store for us.

5000 BC

Worms! There’s an ancient Sumerian text describing a certain sort of “tooth worm” as the reason for cavities at this point in history – thankfully, they were wrong about this one. Phew! 


A “silver paste,” is described in a Chinese medical text as a type of tooth filling material. Researchers consider this to be the first reference to a type of dental amalgam.


Tooth hurt? Time to head to the barber. This year in France, a Guild of Barbers is established to care for individuals with tooth concerns. Two groups evolve from the effort: “surgeons who were educated and trained to perform complex surgical operations; and lay barbers, or barber-surgeons, who performed more routine hygienic services including shaving, bleeding and tooth extraction.”


Nearly two hundred years of tooth work from the guy who also cuts hair creates an awareness, that maybe it’s better to have trained doctors performing surgical procedures. From this point on, royal decrees allow lay barbers to perform only bleeding, cupping, leeching, and extracting teeth. Gulp (that’s still some serious stuff!).


French surgeon, Pierre Fauchard, pens “The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth (Le Chirurgien Dentiste).” Today, we consider him to be the Father of Modern Dentistry. 


Time for some metal! Gold crowns and posts placed after a root canal make an appearance, along with the suggestion that white enameling for gold crowns makes for a more esthetic appearance.


Let’s make those broken teeth beautiful! Porcelain teeth are granted patent status – Frenchman Nicolas Dubois de Chemant gets the honors.


Comfort and speed enter dentistry as one of George Washington’s dentists invents the first tooth drill (connected to a spinning wheel!), and the first chair specifically made for dental patients arrives, complete with an adjustable headrest and an arm extension to hold dental tools.


Rest easy. The first reclining dental chair appears on the market!


Public anesthesia demonstrations? Yes. Nearly twenty years before the American Civil War, dentist William Morton demonstrates ether anesthesia on a patient for surgery – in public. 


The introduction of the collapsible metal tube revolutionizes oral care. Now, instead of having to purchase liquid or powdered toothpaste directly from the dentist (in glass, porcelain, or paper containers), tubes are now mass-manufactured and ultra-portable.


The X-ray is discovered by German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen.


In the new century, many new inventions came to market, including the first nylon toothbrush.


Newburg, New York and Grand Rapids, Michigan are the first two cities to add sodium fluoride to their public water systems.


Fluoride toothpaste hits the market. 

Special thanks to the American Dental Association for ferreting out these wonderful historical finds. If you enjoyed this small list, there are many more on the ADA’s website.