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History of Dentistry

Dentistry is the “evaluation, diagnosis, prevention and/or treatment (nonsurgical, surgical or related procedures) of diseases, disorders and/or conditions of the oral cavity, maxillofacial area and/or the adjacent and associated structures and their impact on the human body”. Dentistry is necessary for complete oral health.

Dentistry usually encompasses a number of practices related to the oral cavity. The most common treatments involve the dental surgery on the teeth as a treatment for dental caries. Decayed teeth can be filled with dental amalgam (most dentists are getting away from amalgam because of numerous side effect), dental composite, dental porcelain and precious or non-precious metals. Oral and maxillofacial surgery is a more specialized form of dental surgery. Dentists can prescribe medication, x-rays, and devices for home or in-office use. Many oral diseases (such as bilateral odontogenic keratocysts) and abnormalities (such as several unerupted teeth) can indicate systemic, neural, or other diseases. Most general practitioners of dentistry perform restorative, prosthetic, endodontic therapy, periodontal therapy, and exodontia, as well as performing examinations. Many general practitioners are comfortable treating complex cases, as well as placing implants and surgically extracting third molars (wisdom teeth). All dentists must achieve a certain degree of skill in various disciplines in order to provide a quality care of those procedures.

Dentists also encourage prevention of dental cavities through proper hygiene (tooth brushing and flossing), fluoride, and tooth polishing. Recognized but less conventional preventive agents include xylitol, which is bacteriostatic, casein derivatives, and proprietary products such as Cavistat Basic Mints.

Ancient History of Dentistry

Evidence of ancient dentistry has recently been found in a Neolithic graveyard in the Indus River basin of Pakistan. Teeth dating from around 7000 to 5500 BC show evidence of holes from dental drills. The teeth were found in people of the Indus Valley Civilization. A Sumerian text from 5000 BC describes a “tooth worm” as the cause of dental caries. Evidence of this belief has also been found in ancient India, Egypt, Japan, and China. The legend of the worm is also found in the writings of Homer, and as late as the 1300s AD the surgeon Guy de Chauliac still promoted the belief that worms cause tooth decay.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus, written in the 17th century BC but which may reflect previous manuscripts from as early as 3000 BC, includes the treatment of several dental ailments. In the 18th century BC, the Code of Hammurabi referenced dental extraction twice as it related to punishment. Examination of the remains of some ancient Egyptians and Greco-Romans reveals early attempts at dental prosthetics and surgery.

Ancient Greek scholars Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, including the eruption pattern of teeth, treating decayed teeth and gum disease, extracting teeth with forceps, and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws. The first use of dental appliances or bridges comes from the Etruscans from as early as 700 BC. Roman medical writer Cornelius Celsus wrote extensively of oral diseases as well as dental treatments such as narcotic-containing emollients and astringents.

Historically, dental extractions have been used to treat a variety of illnesses. During the Middle Ages and throughout the 19th century, dentistry was not a profession in itself, and often dental procedures were performed by barbers or general physicians. Barbers usually limited their practice to extracting teeth, which not only resulted in the alleviation of pain, but often cured a variety of ailments linked to chronic tooth infection. Instruments used for dental extractions date back several centuries. In the 14th century, Guy de Chauliac invented the dental pelican (resembling a pelican‘s beak) which was used up until the late 18th century. The pelican was replaced by the dental key ( Le Clus Key ) which, in turn, was replaced by modern forceps in the 20th century.

The first book focused solely on dentistry was the “Artzney Buchlein” in 1530, and the first dental textbook written in English was called “Operator for the Teeth” by Charles Allen in 1685. It was between 1650 and 1800 that the science of modern dentistry developed. It is said that the 17th century French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today, and he has been named “the father of modern dentistry”. Among many of his developments were the extensive use of dental prosthesis, the introduction of dental fillings as a treatment for dental caries and the statement that sugar derivate acids such as tartaric acid are responsible for dental decay.

Recognized Dental Specialties: EndodonticsOral and Maxillofacial PathologyOral and Maxillofacial RadiologyOral and Maxillofacial SurgeryOrthodontics and Dentofacial OrthopedicsPediatric DentistryPeriodonticsProsthodonticsDental public healthRestorative Dentistry

Unrecognized Dental Specialties: Cosmetic DentistryDental ImplantologyTemporomandibular Joint DisorderGeriatric dentistry

Note: Some Dental schools are now providing a specialty program in Implant dentistry and Geriatrics Dentistry.