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The History of Dentistry Goes Back Thousands of Years

Michael Tischler Jan 24, 2017

A toothbrush with toothpasteWe tend to take a lot of common items for granted. Yet if we knew the history of these common items, we may appreciate where they came from and how far our civilization has come. The team at our Hudson Valley restorative dentistry center often considers these issues, particularly given the state-of-the-art technology we use every day to improve the health and appearance of smiles.

Right now, we'd like to take a quick jaunt through the history of dentistry. This should offer some unique insights into the thousands of years of development for simple things you find in your medicine cabinet.

From Dental Creams to Toothpaste

Toothpaste is an innovation that goes back to 5000 BC. Ancient Egyptians used a dental cream to polish the teeth. Applied and removed with a rag, this cream often contained pumice, myrrh, egg shells, and ox hooves. Similar dental creams could also be found in Ancient Greece, Indian, Rome, and China.

Toothpaste as we know it wouldn't show up until the 1850s, when people added soap to tooth powders of the era. (A tooth powder is a bit like brushing your teeth with baking soda.) This early toothpaste tended to be sold in jars and boxes. The toothpaste tube would eventually show up in the 1880s.

From Chew Sticks to the Toothbrush

We often take the toothbrush for granted, but its history dates back to ancient times, generally around 3500 BC. The early ancestor of the toothbrush was the chew stick, which was a twig with a frayed end to polish the teeth and a sharp end to pick between the teeth. Early chew stick were found in Ancient Egypt, with similar chew sticks found in China and other cultures before the common era.

A more traditional toothbrush would appear in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). This toothbrush used the hair from a Siberian hog for its bristles. Later toothbrushes in the 1200s used horse hair as bristles.

The modern toothbrush was born in 1938, with nylon used for bristles rather than animal hair. Softer nylon bristles would be used for toothbrushes during the 1950s.

A Brief History of Dental Implants

Dental implants are ideal for treating missing teeth, and much like toothpaste and the toothbrush, you can find early attempts at implant dentistry in the ancient world.

Roughly 4,000 years ago, people in China used bamboo pegs to replace missing teeth. There's also evidence of artificial teeth made of metals used in Ancient Egypt, though on the dead rather than the living. About 2,000 years ago, people tried to replace their missing teeth with animal teeth, though with poor results overall.

Dental implants as we know them today wouldn't show up until the mid-20th century. It was during the 1950s that Dr. Per-Ingvar Branemark discovered that titanium could fuse with bone, making it ideal for various kinds of implants. He coined the term osseointegration for this process, and eventually performed the first successful dental implant surgery in 1965.

Learn More About Your Dental Care Needs

For more information about your dental care needs and how we can help you have the healthiest smile possible, be sure to contact our team of dental care experts today. We look forward to your visit and helping you achieve optimal dental health and wellness.

More posts about: General Dentistry

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