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A Super Brief History of Dentistry

Portrait of a cheerful dentist with arms crossed

It is common knowledge that you should brush your teeth at least twice a day and visit the dentist two times a year. Healthy teeth are essential for a healthy body, which might explain why dentistry has been around since 7000 BC.

The first known record of “dentistry” being practiced was the use of bow drills to help alleviate pain from poor dental health. Fillings were not created until 4500 BC, and the first ones were made of beeswax.

For thousands of years it was believed that worms were what caused tooth decay, rather than bacteria. It was not until the 1700s that the worm theory was proven inaccurate. Instead of treating the main cause for decay, ancient scholars would remove teeth to preserve health. Teeth were extracted using forceps and wires would stabilize fractured jaws. The first “dentist”, Hesi-Re of Egypt, used gold wire to bind teeth together, laying an early foundation for modern orthodontics.

Throughout the 19th century, dental procedures were not performed by dentists, but instead by physicians. Additionally, barbers would sometimes pull teeth that were constantly infected. The teeth were extracted using a utensil known as the dental pelican that was invented by Guy de Chauliac. In the late 18th century, the dental key replaced the pelican. The forceps we know today were not introduced until the 20th century.

The “father of modern dentistry” was a French surgeon, Pierre Fauchard. He was a skilled surgeon who used tools from watchmakers, jewelers, and other professions as dentistry tools. Fauchard was also the man who started using fillings in dental cavities and discovered leads to tooth decay. In addition, he invented ways to replace missing teeth with ivory or bone.

After Fauchard, British surgeon John Hunter published The Natural History of Human Teeth and Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Teeth. He began collaborating with James Spence, a London dentist, in 1763. As a surgeon, he began experimenting with the possibility of tooth transplants. A few of the operations lasted for six years, while the rest never bonded properly. By the end of the 19th century, the government regulated dentistry leading to the formation of the American Dental Association in the United States after the first dental college was opened in Baltimore.

Colgate was the first company to produce toothpaste in a jar in 1873, and H.N. Wadsworth followed with a toothbrush just over ten years later. In 1905, Novocain was used as an anesthesia for dental use after it served as a painkiller for soldiers. It was not until 1939 when the electric toothbrush was produced in Switzerland. Dental home health was not common in the United States until after the 1940s. The soldiers fighting in World War II brought the hygiene habits back to the states and it quickly spread to a cosmetic practice as well.

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…Treat Others As You Would Have Them Treat You … Matthew 7:12