The Evolution of Dentistry


Dentistry has a longer history than most people know. From ancient tomes on decaying teeth to myths about tooth worms, human history is rife with writings on oral health. While the practice of dentistry is borderline unrecognizable from what it was just a century ago, it’s important to understand how we got here.

This article takes a look at the timeline of modern dentistry, dating back almost 9000 years!

7000 B.C.: Evidence of 9 people who had holes drilled in their molars to possibly alleviate tooth pain was found in the area where the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization (Modern Pakistan) was.

5000 B.C.: Sumerian texts elaborately described how worms were digging holes teeth to hide in. This was one of the first theories of what causes dental decay. It was so prevalent, in fact, that it wasn’t disproved till the early 18th century.

2600 B.C.: An Egyptian scribe named Hesy-Re’s tombstone read something to the effect of “the greatest person who deals with teeth.” A lot of people consider him the first specialized dental practitioner.

1700–1550 B.C.: An Egyptian text that goes by Ebers Papyrus described various tooth ailments and possible remedies to them.

500–300 B.C.: Both Hippocrates (Yes, the Hippocratic Oath Hippocrates!) and Aristotle wrote everything from gum disease, using wires to attach loose teeth, tooth extraction, and how teeth grow.

100 B.C.: Celsus, a medical writer from Rome, continued the tradition of writings by Aristotle, etc. by compiling a compendium of dental problems.

166–201: The Etruscans of what is modern day Tuscany started using rudimentary dental prosthetics with fixed bridgework/gold crowns.

700: Chinese texts mentioned using “silver paste,” an amalgam used to fill cavities.

1400: France had a tradition of “barbers” who extracted teeth and even performed more complex procedures. A law banned people who weren’t certified from performing these procedures.

1530: A seminal moment in dentistry occurred when The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth was published in Germany. It covered hundreds of topics related to oral hygiene, teeth drilling, and gold fillings, among others.

1575: One of the fathers of modern surgery, Ambrose Pare, had many mentions of dentistry in his published Complete Works.

1723: Pierre Fauchard—the man responsible for dentistry as we know it today—published The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth. The book was the first one-stop guide for everything from descriptions of oral anatomy to how dentures were to be made and other restorative processes.

1746: Claude Mouton hypothesized the first dental implant. He also suggested white enameling to make gold crowns look realer.

1768–1770: The field of dental forensics started when Paul Revere identified a bridge he had a constructed for his friend after his death.

1789: The first patent regarding teeth made of porcelain is applied for.

1790: This was a special year in dentistry; both the dental foot engine (used to rotate drills) and the first specialized dental chairs were invented; by John Greenwood and Josiah Flagg respectively.

1825: A dentist named Samuel Stockton starts commercially manufacturing the first porcelain teeth. They became extremely popular throughout the rest of the century.

1832: Inspired by the Flagg’s chair, James Snell makes the first dental chair that reclines backwards.

1839: The first journal of dental science (American Journal of Dental Science) began its annual publication. In the same year, Charles Goodyear revolutionized dentistry when he discovered a process that could be used to make molds.

1840: Both the first dental school (The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery) and the first dental organization (American Society of Dental Surgeons) are formed.

1846: William Morton demonstrates the first use of anesthesia for surgery.

1864: The invention of the rubber dam allowed dentists to isolate teeth from oral cavities.


1871: George F. Green invents the first dental engine that’s automatic and powered by electricity.

1880s: These 10 years marked the beginning of one of the hallmarks of modern life, toothpaste in tubes!

1883: The Stowe & Eddy Dental Lab was the first of its kind and produced much research.

1890: With the development of a microbial understanding of decay, there was a flurry of interest in oral hygiene across the world.

1895: The first dental x-ray is taken.

1899: Orthodontics became vastly more specialized when Edward Angle started developing a typology of malocclusions.

1905: Local anesthetic made dental surgery a lot easier for both patients and dentists.

1907: William Taggart’s casting machine allowed dentists to start making cast fillings that were far more precise.

1908: The publishing of Operative Dentistry gave dentists an essential text that remained so for more than half a century. It gathered all the research that had been done so far and tried to standardize procedures.

1937: The biocompatible metal, Vitallium, allowed for the first viable dental implants. Alvin Strock pioneered this method.

1938: The first nylon toothbrush made out of bristles that were synthetic was made.

1950: New toothpastes now contained fluoride in them.

1955: Michael Buonocore figured out a way to maximize the adhesiveness of acrylic fillings attached to the enamel.

1957: John Borden’s high-tech Airotor handpiece achieved speeds in excess of 300,000 rotations for every minute. This launched what was then known as high-speed dentistry.

1958: The first dental chair that was fully reclining came to be available.

1960: Laser treatment for gums, electronic toothbrushes, and four-handed dentistry that greatly improved treatment times all became common.

1980: The osseointegration process was first described. Giving rise to how modern implants work.

1989: The home teeth whitening industry launched with the first bleaching product.

1997: The YAG laser was first used this year for tooth decay.

Did going through this timeline remind you that you haven’t scheduled your biannual appointment with your dentist? If you’re in the Houston, Texas area, Aura Dental provides exemplary general dentist services there. Contact them at 1-832-674-8043.

About the author



I’m Nancy and no, I didn’t always look like I do in that picture on the right. My foray into health and fitness began as a brace-faced, 16 year-old who was too afraid to wear a two-piece at the beach because I felt my body paled in comparison to my much more toned friends.

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