Odontophobia is the fear of dentistry. As an adult I reunited with a cousin whom I had not been in contact with for a couple of decades. One of her first questions was did I have dental work performed by Dr. “X” when I was a child. I will only refer to this dentist as Dr. “X” because – well, leave his memory alone. My cousin and I compared notes and reminisced. The brief story is that I remember going to the converted home that was his office and listening to the screams. The screams were from the adults in the waiting room! Perhaps I exaggerate just a bit, but it wasn’t pretty.
When a tooth develops a cavity, the decayed tissue must be removed. The earliest form of dentistry involved resolving tooth related disorders with bow drills operated by skilled craftsmen. Other early implements for performing this work were picks and enamel scissors. Two-edged cutting instruments were designed later that were twirled in both directions between the fingers of an early dental practitioner. The methods used were reliable and effective. Teeth over 9,000 years old with drilled cavities have been found within the Indus Valley Civilization. So since at least 7,000 B.C. people have attempted to ameliorate the pain they experienced from dental disorders. It wasn’t until 5000 B.C. that written descriptions connected to dentistry and tooth decay were obtainable. A Sumerian text from that time described tooth worms as causing dental decay. This idea was proven false in the 1700s.
Hesy-Re is recognized as the first known dental practitioner. He was an Egyptian scribe who lived around 2600 B.C. It wasn’t until 1530 that the Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth—was published.
A French surgeon, Pierre Fauchard, described an improved drill in 1728. Its rotary movement was powered by catgut twisted around a cylinder. Mr. Fauchard has been called the father of modern dentistry. In America, Paul Revere, a silversmith, was also trained as a dentist by the Colony’s’ first dentist, a man named John Baker. Yes, this is the same Paul Revere of the “Midnight Ride” fame.
John Greenwood invented the first known “dental foot engine” in 1790. Mr. Greenwood adapted his mother’s foot-treadle powered spinning wheel to rotate his drill. After Mr. Greenwood’s death in 1819, his dentist son continued to use the drill, but the idea did not spread any further. By the way, Greenwood (the father) was our first President’s (George Washington) dentist.
In 1840, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery opened. It was the first dental college and emphasized the need for more oversight of the profession. Alabama became the first state to enact legislation with the first dental practice act in 1841. Nearly 20 years later, the American Dental Association (ADA) was formed. The Harvard University Dental School was founded in 1867. It was the first university-affiliated dental institution.
One hundred and forty-two years ago, on January 26, 1875, George F. Green of Kalamazoo, Michigan, received patent #159,028 for the electric dental drill. The instrument could be used for sawing, filing, dressing and polishing teeth, and was described as an “electromagnetic dental tool”. It was heavy, expensive and very slow by today’s standards. It was also reversible. Plug-in electric drills became available in 1908, by which time electricity was available in most dental offices. By 1914 drill speeds had increased to about 3,000 revolutions per minute. Modern dental drills are turbine-powered and rotate at speeds of 300,000 to 400,000 rpm.
Egyptians are believed to have started using a paste to clean their teeth sometime around 5,000 BC. In more modern times, but prior to the 1850s, ‘toothpastes’ were usually powders. During the 1850s, new toothpaste in a jar called a Crème Dentifrice was developed. In 1873 Colgate started the mass production of toothpaste in jars. It wasn’t until the 1890s that Colgate introduced its toothpaste in a tube similar to modern-day toothpaste tubes.
What might be most surprising to some readers is that Americans did not adopt good brushing habits until after World War II. Soldiers who had been stationed abroad brought the concept of good oral health back to the United States!
Image is from dental assistant.net