A Pictorial History of Dentistry

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A Pictorial History of Dentistry

7000 BC The Bow Drill Era

Dentistry got its start in the Indus Valley of India and Pakistan. These industrious would-be dentists were master beadmakers who used bow drills to cure tooth problems. This is also the first appearance of dental assistants, whose duties consisted of restraining the flailing arms and legs of patients during the undoubtedly excruciating procedures. Still, this obviously beat a life without teeth.


5000 BC The Myth of the Tooth Worm

The first and most enduring explanation for what causes tooth decay was the tooth worm, first noted by the Sumerians around 5000 BC. The hypothesis was that tooth decay was the result of a tooth worm boring into and decimating the teeth. This is logical, as the holes created by cavities are somewhat similar to those bored by worms into wood.

The ivory sculptures below depict the havoc wrought by these wicked worms

The idea of the tooth worm has been found in the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers and poets, as well as those of the ancient Indian, Japanense, Egyptian, and Chinese cultures. It endured as late as the 1300s, when French surgeon Guy de Chauliac promoted it as the cause of tooth decay.

700 BC The First Bridges

The first society to use dental bridges and appliances were the Etruscans, starting around 700 BC. The image below shows a similar dental bridge created by the Egyptians that uses gold wires to hold the teeth together. Th

is is also the first incarnation of a cosmetic dental practice that would come to be know as "bling".


The Art of Extraction

Up until the 16th century, dedicated dentists did not exist and dentistry was practiced by general physicians and barbers. The staple procedure of these early dentists was the extraction, which was used to alleviate pain and halt tooth decay. Over the years, a number of tools were invented for performing this procedure.

The images below display several variations of the Dental Pelican, which was invented in the 14t

h century by Guy de
Chauliac and used until the late 18th century.



The pelican later gave way to the Dental Key


The Father of Modern Dentistry

In 1723, French surgeon Pierre Fauchard published The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth. He is considered the father of modern dentistry because his book was the first to describe a comprehensive system for caring for and treating the teeth.

1790 The First Dental Foot Engine

The first dental foot engine was built by John Greenwood and one of George Washington's dentists. It was made from an adapted foot-powered spinning wheel.

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