The Dawn of Dentistry

***UPDATED: June 16, 2015*** Researchers from the universities of Ferrara and Bologna believe that they have discovered evidence of fundamental dental procedures dating back to 14,000 years ago. The scientists discovered what they believe to be an infected tooth that had been treated in the skull of a 25-year-old hunter-gatherer, that was discovered in a shallow pit in a rock shelter near the town of Belluno in Dolomites in 1988. The hunter was found surrounded by the his most prized possessions: a flint knife, a stone hammer, a flint blade and a sharp piece of bone. According to an article from the UK’s Telegraph, it was known that early humans used toothpicks made from wood or bone for basic dental hygiene, but this latest discovery shows a more sophisticated practice, 5,000 years earlier than previously thought. “What the results show is that the tooth represents the oldest evidence of intervention on a cavity,” said Stefano Benazzi, the leader of the research group. It also suggests that “humans were aware of the damaging effects of cavity infections and of the necessity of treating them, using stone instruments to remove the infected material and to clean out the cavity.”

Did you know that evidence shows that dental practices date back to as early as the Stone Age? From the dawn of time, man has recognized the importance of teeth and has used the latest technology available to develop tools to take care of them, according to an Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) article, “The History of Dental Advances.”  Toothbrushes, for example, first took the form of small sticks or twigs with the Chinese claiming the first bristle brush (made of hog bristle) during the Tang Dynasty (619-907).  The first electric toothbrush was actually marketed in 1880, although the technology wasn’t quite practical until just after World War II.  Toothpastes were also developed in ancient times, and were often made of ingredients such as powdered fruit, ground shells, talc, honey, and dried flowers.  Some cultures even used components such as mice, rabbit heads, lizard livers and urine.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that toothpaste began resembling what we use today, with the first collapsible tube making its appearance in 1892.  These basic tools of dentistry were widespread and often useful, but it would be many years later that the world would see the amazing developments of modern dentistry.

It is quite amazing what cosmetic dentists can do to restore lost or damaged teeth these days.  Dentures, implants, and crowns have evolved so much that they are virtually indistinguishable from real teeth, although this wasn’t always the case.  Possibly the most famous set of false teeth in American history comes from our first president, George Washington.  While rumor had it that they were made of wood (which is not even possible), they were actually constructed of human and animal teeth.  Anchoring the false teeth proved to be an early problem as was the use of genuine teeth.  Not only did dentists have a difficult time getting teeth to stay put, but the “dead” teeth would rot rather quickly.  It wasn’t until 1774 that two Frenchmen designed a set of porcelain teeth, which were then improved upon by dentists all over the world.  In 1808, an Italian dentist created the first single porcelain tooth imbedded with a platinum pin, which was brought to America in 1822, where it has been tinkered with and improved ever since. Some consider the biggest breakthrough in dental history to be the use of anesthesia, which wasn’t available until the 1830s, changing the face of medicine worldwide.

Teeth extraction in early times consisted of “a well-placed chisel and a hard swing of a mallet,” but was later replaced with forceps in the great Greek and Roman civilizations.  In the 1790s, a British chemist began experimenting with nitrous oxide as a pain-inhibitor, noticing its most common side-effect, laughing.  In 1863, the “laughing gas” was combined with oxygen and became commonplace in most surgical procedures.  The use of cocaine was started just before the turn of the 20th century, but once the addictive qualities were discovered, alternatives were quickly developed.  In 1905, a German chemist discovered procaine (later named Novocain) which became extremely popular with dental professionals and even more so with the public as “painless dentistry” was born.  Nitrous Oxide is still widely used today; however sedation dentistry has developed into an even more specialized area of practice.  Oral sedation is quite popular with the use of pills to relieve light to severe fear and anxiety in patients and is prescribed by many professionals.  In addition to these forms of sedation, IV sedation has more recently been made available for patients who experience a high level of fear and anxiety, or who require a particularly long procedure.  Only those dentists who have extensive training and are specially licensed in their state can offer this type of sedation.  Dr. Luis Sanchez, at Miami Dental Sedation Spa, is one of the few sedation dentists in Southern Florida who has completed these requirements and is able to practice this high-level, modern form of dentistry.   From sticks and twigs to IV sedation, dentistry continues to develop using the most cutting-edge technology available.  We’ve come a long way from chisel and mallet, and my mouth couldn’t be happier about that.

Written by Mark Paulsort

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