The History of dentistry

A prehistoric tooth containing traces of beeswax used as cavity filler has sent a ripple of excitement throughout the history of dentistry. The tooth was discovered as part of a human mandible—or jawbone—in Slovenia near Trieste. There is very little evidence of prehistoric dentistry, thus any finding of this nature is of extreme significance. In light of this astounding finding, your Lake Forest dentist, Dr. Fondriest, has put together a brief dental timeline.

Abbreviated Timeline for the History of dentistry

With so many technological advances occurring in the last 50 years, it’s hard to imagine that the practice of dentistry, in various forms, has been ongoing for over 8,000 years. By the Middle Ages, dental extraction was commonly used for a variety of maladies and carried out by barbers or general physicians. Clearly, the realm of dentistry has made great strides over the years.

7000 BC—The Indus Valley Civilization, located in what is now Pakistan, practiced what is considered the earliest form of dentistry. Tooth-related disorders were cured by the use of bow drills.

6500 BC—The approximate age of the beeswax-filled tooth discovered last week. It is not yet know if the filling was applied posthumously or during the person’s life.

5000 BC—A Sumerian text describes a “tooth worm” as the cause of dental caries.

4500 BC -The very earliest toothpastes developed by the Egyptians were called “tooth powders” and were made using things such as crushed bones, burnt eggshells, and ashes. One tooth powder consisted of a mixture of myrrh, pumice, ox hooves, and eggshell fragments, while others consisted of pepper, powdered salt, iris flowers, and mint leaves.

3500 B.C – Babylonians cleaned their teeth with “chewing sticks” from certain trees. They would either fray or chew one end of the stick to use as bristles, using the other end as a handle. Ancient Egyptians used twigs with antibacterial properties from neem and cinnamon trees. The cinnamon tasted good and freshened their breath. The Chinese used chewing sticks right up until the 13th century when they developed the first toothbrush using boar bristles and a bamboo handle.

3000 BC—In Ancient Egypt, Hesi-Re is the first named “dentist.” Egyptians used gold wire to bind together replacement teeth.

1800 BC—Dental extraction is twice mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi, although it is mentioned as a form of punishment.

500 BC – The Mayans had an unprecedented understanding of dentistry. Men would have their teeth decorated by cutting parts out and shaping the tooth to resemble flowers or totems poles. They would also have gems inserted into the center of their teeth. These decorative feats were performed using a primitive drill without cracking or breaking the dentition.

460-340 BC—Famed Greek scholars, Hippocrates and Aristotle, wrote about the eruption pattern of teeth as well as tooth decay, gum disease, and the use of wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws.

50 AD—Roman encyclopaedist, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, wrote extensively about oral diseases, as well as various dental treatments. The Romans brushed their teeth with a urine-based toothpaste. The ammonia in the urine helped keep their teeth white.  Eventually the Romans began using a mixture of pulverized brick, chalk, and salt.

14th Century—During the middle of the 14th century Guy de Chauliac was a surgeon and surgical writer known for the text-book of surgery “Le Grande Chirurgie.” In his chapters about teeth he wrote then of things that are still relevant today. For instance, using your teeth to break hard things can harm enamel and lead to decay. Sweets, particularly sticky preserves, were recognized as contributing to tooth decay, and he suggested cleaning the teeth often but not too vigorously. He invented the “dental pelican,” a primitive forceps so named due to its resemblance to the bird’s beak.

The Dental Rules of Giovanni of Arcoli

One of the great minds in the history of dentistry is Giovanni of Arcoli considered teeth a matter of great importance and enumerated detailed rules regarding dental hygiene. His first published rules in the history of dentistry are:

  • Avoid anything that may provoke vomiting.
  • Sweet and viscous food such as dried figs, preserves made with honey, etc., must not be partaken of.
  • Hard things must not be broken with the teeth.
  • All food, drink, and other substances that set the teeth on edge must be avoided.
  • Food that is too hot or too cold must be avoided, and especially the rapid succession of hot and cold, and vice versa.
  • Leeks must not be eaten, as such a food, by its own nature, is injurious to the teeth.
  • The teeth must be cleaned at once, after every meal, from the particles of food left in them; and for this purpose thin pieces of wood should be used, somewhat broad at the ends, but not sharp-pointed or edged; and preference should be given to small cypress twigs, to the wood of aloes, or pine, rosemary, or juniper and similar sorts of wood which are rather bitter and styptic; care must, however, be taken not to search too long in the dental interstices and not to injure the gums or shake the teeth.
  • After this it is necessary to rinse the mouth by using by preference a vinous decoction of sage, or one of cinnamon, mastich, gallia, moschata, cubeb, juniper seeds, root of cyperus, and rosemary leaves.
  • The teeth must he rubbed with suitable dentrifices before going to bed, or else in the morning before breakfast. Whilst moderate frictions of brief duration are helpful to the teeth, strengthen the gums, prevent the formation of tartar, and sweeten the breath, too rough or too prolonged rubbing is, on the contrary, harmful to the teeth, and makes them liable to many diseases.

1685—The first dental textbook written in English, Operator for the Teeth, by Charles Allen, is published. The boar bristle toothbrush was introduced to the west, Europeans were scrubbing their teeth with a cloth or sponge dipped in salt solutions or sulfur oils.

1728—French physician, Pierre Fauchard, publishes The Surgeon Dentist. Fauchard has been credited as the “father of modern dentistry,” and some of his many contributions include operative methods of tooth restoration, as well as a scientific explanation of dentistry.

1810 – Napoleon used an opium-based toothpaste.

1800s – Because the dental profession had yet to exist in the early 1800s, anyone with suitable tools–usually barbers and blacksmiths–performed dental related treatments. Once the dental profession was developed people continued to rely on their blacksmiths and barbers for dental treatment, which made real dentists angry and licensing became a requirement.

1870 – The first toothpaste in a jar was mass-produced by Colgate. It was called Crème Dentrifice.

1896 – Colgate Dental Cream in collapsible tubes became available for purchase

1900 – A toothpaste consisting of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide was developed around 1900.

1914 – Fluoride, which helps prevent cavities while strengthening teeth, was added to toothpastes

1937 – Americans invented nylon toothbrush bristles for a great improvement in dental care. Nylon bristles replaced most others because they are sanitary and less costly. Interestingly enough, however, chewing sticks are still used in areas of the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America.


If you would like to learn the newer trends in the history of dentistry

If you have any questions about restorative or cosmetic dentistry, you should contact us to set up a consultation with Dr. Fondriest. To schedule an appointment, call our  office at 847-234-0517. We proudly serve patients from Chicago and all other surrounding communities.