The History of Dentistry

Categories: Blog, Kelowna Dentist, and Sunnyside Dental.

See How Far We’ve Come

It’s a nice thing to have teeth. We live in an age when most people have ready access to dental care, and have strong, healthy smiles throughout their life. We’re fortunate that we can visit trusted professionals who have comprehensive training and state-of-the-art technology to address any oral health problems that may arise.

But maintaining those pearly whites hasn’t always been so easy. We’ve come a long way since the early days of dentistry. Sunnyside Dental’s historian has compiled a brief history of our profession. Have a look; some of these stories are sure to put a (healthy!) smile on your face!


We’ve Been at This a Long Time (Nearly 9,000 Years!)

Archaeologists and historians working in the Indus Valley (what is now Pakistan) have found evidence of early dental healthcare dating back to around 7000 BCE. They’ve excavated skeletons with precisely drilled holes in their teeth. The fact that those teeth were discovered still in their jawbones indicates that this method of removing decay (probably with tiny flint drills) was, in fact, successful.

For thousands of years, people assumed that cavities and tooth decay were caused by “tooth worms”. The oldest mention of these comes from an ancient Mesopotamian text dating to around 5000 BCE, but this theory persisted well into the 18th century.

In Antiquity, people were known to chew on sticks or tough roots in order to scrape their teeth clean.

Dentistry advanced significantly in ancient Egypt. Mummies with fillings and crowns made of various materials (like resin and stone) have been discovered there. It’s also where the first dentist, Hesy-Re, lived, in around 2600 BCE. Not surprisingly, the Egyptians are credited with developing a rudimentary form of toothpaste nearly 5,000 years ago!

4,000 year old skeletons unearthed in the Philippines have been found with crowns and false teeth made of gold.

By around 700 BCE, dentistry was a common practice. The ancient Greeks and Etruscans all developed technology specific to dental surgery, like extraction tools and bridges made of gold wire and carved animal teeth. Ancient Romans were believed to use a toothpaste made from honey and eggshells. As progressive as these ideas were, it would be thousands of years before humans developed what we might recognize as more modern dentistry practices.


Dentistry and More in the Barber’s Chair

In the 1400s, the Chinese invented the toothbrush; made from bamboo and boars’ hair, these were more effective than chewing on twigs, but probably not too pleasant!

Around the same time, the Barber Surgeon Guild emerged across Europe. A visit to the barber could result in a shave, a haircut, a bleeding by leeches, or a tooth-pulling! These dental practitioners also began to develop advances in restorative dentistry that lasted for hundreds of years. False teeth made from bone, ivory, and even other human teeth were common.

Of course, this was also the era when people rinsed their mouths with a concoction of dogs’ teeth boiled in wine to ward off the tooth worms, so, they still had much to learn…


A Scientific Approach

What might be considered modern dental techniques began to appear in the 18th century. Frenchman Pierre Fauchard published a scientific text about dental treatments, including treating decay, periodontal diseases and other oral healthcare concerns. In the Age of Enlightenment, dentistry became a distinct profession, and new materials and discoveries allowed for somewhat healthier practices. Porcelain dentures also became standard (no more using the teeth of the recently deceased!).

By the mid-1800s, dentistry was recognized as an essential aspect of healthcare. Universities began to open specialized dental schools, and a visit to the dentist was made significantly less intimidating with the adoption of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) as an anaesthetic. “Dental Creams” (toothpaste) became readily available to the general public. The invention of the impression compound and other applications of synthetics like rubber denture bases ushered the profession into the 20th century.

In the 1930s, modern toothbrushes with nylon bristles and more effective, better-tasting toothpastes were standard. A comprehensive understanding of bacteria meant that the average citizen was now aware of the importance of a healthy mouth. With advances in general medicine, radiology, and surgery, modern dentistry made rapid progress.


The Future Looks Bright

Right now is the best time in history to ‘have to visit’ a dentist! With today’s incredible technology, most treatments are painless and quick.

At Sunnyside Dental, we use the most up-to-date technology, like our iTero scanner, incredible materials like zirconia and ceramic for implants, secure and easy bridgework, Invisalign, teeth whitening and more. (And, of course, everyone is grateful for modern anaesthesia!) We provide exceptional dental services, whether you’re in for a checkup, a restoration, or a cosmetic treatment. In a nod to the Barber Surgeons of old, we even provide a variety of cosmetic and medical Botox treatments at our clinic –but you will have to go elsewhere for a haircut, sorry!

Sunnyside’s professional team of dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants have the knowledge, experience, and friendly temperaments to make any stay in our chair a pleasant one. Contact us to see how we can address your oral healthcare concerns.