Skip to Main Content
History

For centuries, the practice of dentistry consisted largely of curing toothaches by extraction or the use of herbs and similar methods to alleviate pain. It was practiced not only by dentists but also by barbers and blacksmiths as well. Dental care has now become a sophisticated branch of medicine, and dentists are now highly trained professionals of great importance to public health.

Evidence of dentistry exists from as long ago as 7000 B.C. when early dentists treated teeth with bow drills and fashioned fillings out of beeswax and other materials. Tooth extraction is even mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi, circa the 18th century B.C. Traces of dental prosthetics and other efforts at treatment have been found in remains unearthed from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman societies, and references to tooth decay and other dental matters are documented in writings from these cultures.

In 659 A.D., a Chinese physician introduced amalgam fillings to dentistry, and the practice later appeared in Europe in 1528. Dentistry, at that time, was not a distinct profession as it is today. Tooth extraction was the most common method of dealing with diseases or damaged teeth, and barbers often performed these while general physicians treated more complicated issues. Dentistry as we know it today began to take shape between 1650 and 1800.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, a French physician, Pierre Fauchard, pioneered the use of dental braces and dental prosthesis. He developed early dental instruments, looking to tools used by physicians as well as barbers, jewelers, and watchmakers for better and more effective ways to treat dental health problems. He replaced lost teeth with false ones carved from bone or ivory. Fauchard’s advancements earned him a reputation as the father of modern dentistry.

Around the same time, British surgeon John Hunter and British dentist James Spence collaborated in experiments with tooth transplants. Hunter also published two landmark works: Natural History of Human Teeth (1771) and Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Teeth (1778).

Beginning in the 19th century, dentistry evolved into the modern science and system of health care that exists in the present. The first dental college in the world, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, opened in the United States in 1840 and later originated the doctor of dental sciences (D.D.S.) degree. Colgate introduced the first mass produced toothpaste in 1873, and the first mass produced toothbrushes followed in 1885.

Since then, dentistry has become increasingly sophisticated and more closely aligned with general health care practices. Many dentists specialize in specific aspects of treatment, such as oral surgery or orthodontics, and treatment of common tooth ailments, such as cavities, have become routine. Advances in dentistry have made dental techniques better and less painful, and with regular dental care, many of the diseases of the gums and teeth can be avoided.

Related Professions