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Although modern dentistry dates back only to the 1700s,
archeologists have provided evidence of dental treatment from
thousands of years ago. The ancient Egyptians treated toothache and
swollen gums in the 16th century B.C. The Greek
physician Aesculapius was the first recorded supporter of tooth
extraction around 1250 B.C., and Hippocrates wrote
about dental diseases in the fifth century B.C. The
Etruscan civilization used crowns and bridgework in the eighth
century B.C. Some people in the Roman Empire wore
false teeth, and the Greek physician Galen also wrote about teeth
in the second century. From the ninth to 12th centuries, Arabic
scholars who wrote about dental disease and treatment included
Abulcasis and Avicenna. Arabians made toothbrushes by pounding the
end of a stick. From the Middle Ages up to the early 18th century
in Western Europe, teeth were extracted by barber-surgeons.
A French dentist, Pierre Fauchard, is called the father of
modern dentistry. In 1728, he published a book, Le Chirurgien
Dentiste (The Surgeon Dentist), that emphasized the
importance of healthy teeth. He developed the first orthodontic
treatment methods and devised a more advanced technique for making
Throughout the 1700s in America, dentists mainly pulled diseased
teeth and provided dentures. Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, a
metalworker by trade, made dentures from gold and ivory. The first
president of the United States, George Washington, was often said
to have had wooden teeth; in fact, his denture teeth were made
either of ivory or carved cow's teeth.
While dentures remained very expensive for 150 years after
Washington, the invention of vulcanized rubber in 1851 meant many
more people could afford dentures. Porcelain teeth were attached to
rubber that had been molded on a model of the mouth. In the 20th
century, however, acrylic plastics replaced vulcanized rubber and
porcelain in dentures.
The world's first dental school, the Baltimore College of Dental
Surgery, was established in 1840. Currently, there are 55 dental
schools in the United States.
The use of anesthesia during surgery was developed in part by
two American dentists. In 1844, Horace Wells pioneered the use of
nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. Dentists today still use nitrous
oxide to relieve pain and anxiety. William Morton was the first to
use ether as an anesthetic gas. Local anesthetic injections of
novocaine were first recommended in 1906. Since then, dental
researchers have continued to investigate other anesthetic methods
to allow pain-free dental treatment. Not only are numerous local
anesthetics available today, but some dentists also use a method
that involves placing electrodes on the skin and using electrical
current to prevent pain. For extensive dental procedures or for
patients who are extremely anxious, dentists may use sedative
medications or general anesthesia.
In the 1890s, an American dentist, G. V. Black, made significant
changes in how dentistry was practiced. In addition to creating a
foot engine to power the dental drill, he devised a cavity
classification system that remains in use today. He also suggested
that tooth decay and gum disease were infectious diseases caused by
bacteria, decades before there was any scientific proof of his
In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays. By the next year,
X-ray images were being used in dentistry. Dentists use X-ray
films, or radiographs, to detect tooth decay and other diseases
that affect the teeth and jawbones.
The high-speed, air-turbine, dental drill became available in
1957. The high-speed drill allows dentists to remove decayed tooth
substance much more rapidly and with much greater comfort for the
The dental profession has been the driving force behind
fluoridation of water supplies in the past 60 years. Widespread
fluoridation has prevented tooth decay in children and adults.
Because tooth decay has become less common, people are now
retaining more teeth into old age.
Recent advances in technology and medical care are reflected in
dental care. Bone grafting and bone regeneration use materials such
as Gore-Tex. New medication technology allows dentists to place
antibiotics between the gums and teeth to treat periodontal
disease. Lasers are currently used for gum surgery; in the future,
dentists may use lasers to drill cavities or make tooth surfaces
more resistant to decay. The technology of computer-aided
design/computer-aided manufacturing, or CAD-CAM, is also used in
dentistry to make ceramic tooth inlays. Dental researchers continue
to fine-tune filling materials. Although many tooth-colored filling
materials are available now, they are generally not as durable as
silver amalgam fillings.
Many dental schools are striving to educate dentists to become
physicians of oral health. Today's dentist must be well versed in
health issues that affect the body outside of the oral cavity.
Patients with certain heart conditions, cancer, AIDS, or diabetes
require special care from their dentists. People who take
prescription medications may have oral side effects, such as dry
mouth, and some medications affect dental treatment in other ways.
Medical emergencies may occur in the dental office, so dentists and
their staff must be ready to deal with them. Many people are
nervous about receiving dental treatment, no matter how painless;
thus, dentists also need to know psychology. In addition to
examining the teeth and gums, today's dentists check their patients
for signs of cancer in the mouth or head and neck. Because of the
ill effects of tobacco on oral health, some dentists help their
patients stop smoking or chewing tobacco.
The dental care field provides a range of occupational options.
More than 600,000 people are employed as general dentists, dental
specialists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental