With the vast array of technologies available in our field today, it is easy to forget the primitive beginnings of dentistry. For thousands of years, our dentally inclined ancestors practiced their trade long before the invention of running water and electricity - not to mention specialized dental instruments!
Here, we take a brief look at the history of dentistry, and pay homage to those who paved the way for people like Dr. Joseph T. Mormino. At our Staten Island, NY practice, he offers a variety of treatments in restorative dentistry. Fortunately, with the technologies available today, we can offer our patients optimal comfort and compassionate care.
The Primitive Origins of Dentistry
Many archaeological sites worldwide have indicated that ancient people knew something about dentistry. Teeth dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C. were recently discovered in a Pakistani graveyard. These teeth belonged to people from the Indus Valley Civilization.
What is unique about this discovery is that eleven of the teeth had drill marks on them. Upon scientific investigation, researchers determined these holes were purposefully made using handmade drill bits crafted from flint. Remnants of decay were noted, which suggests these individuals attempted to eradicate their cavities. Although they removed the decay, there was no evidence that fillings were used.
Archeologists have also discovered papyrus manuscripts dating to approximately 2,600 B.C., which mention a man named Hesy-Re. He was an Egyptian scribe who practiced early medicine and dentistry. To date, Hesy-Re is Egypt’s first recorded dentist.
A common ancient belief was that oral health problems were caused by “tooth worms”. This was widely accepted as truth in ancient Egypt, India, China, and Japan. As humanity’s understanding of science evolved, however, this belief diminished over the centuries.
The Ancient Greeks
Rather than blaming oral health issues on “tooth worms” or evil spirits, Hippocrates was the first in recorded history to suggest that tooth maladies may have a scientific reason for developing. He recommended that observation and practical treatment was necessary for proper care.
Hippocrates found that successful treatments included extractions, various ointments, and even cauterization of the soft tissue.
Aristotle also included findings about dentistry in his writings. Recording observations about tooth development, decay, and even gum disease, he devised treatments to cure these maladies, including stabilizing loose teeth with wires.
Claudius Galen, a Greek physician, discovered that teeth contain living tissue and nerves. Oral hygiene practices were first mentioned by another physician, Diocles of Carystus, who suggested that massaging the gums and rubbing the teeth promoted good oral health.
Dentistry in the Middle Ages
For quite some time, monks were responsible for performing health-related procedures, such as bloodletting, tooth extractions, and other forms of surgery. However, once the Church barred monks from practicing these medical procedures, barbers took over. Due to their skill using sharp razors, they were considered to be the most knowledgeable in the field of medicine and dentistry.
The Beginning of Modern Dentistry
Pierre Fauchard, a French surgeon, published his work entitled Le Chirurgien Dentiste ("The Surgeon Dentist"), published in 1728. He was the first to suggest that sugar led to tooth decay. In his work, he included a comprehensive guide to taking care of teeth, including cleanings, repairing decay with fillings, implant devices, and even braces. Fauchard presented the notion of dentistry as a profession.
Through the decades, others have followed suit, improving and building on the ideas and techniques set forth by these individuals. Today, patients can benefit from conservative dental care that is virtually painless.
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