Ask the Dentist: Did You Know Oral Health Care Once Fell to the Local Barber?

Thursday, January 4, 2018 | DrydenWire |


Did you know oral health care once fell to the local barber? Or, that people used to think tooth decay was caused by worms? Yuck! History is informative and fun. And, the beginning of the year marks the start of a new term of scientific discovery ...who knows what will be in store for us this year. Maybe we’ll happen upon a super-awesome way to take care of our teeth this year. Or, maybe if you keep flossing, we won’t need better technology at all! ;-) Let’s see what history has in store for us.

Christopher S Carroll DDS


5000 BC

Worms! There’s an ancient Sumerian text describing a certain sort of “tooth worm” as the reason for cavities at this point in history – thankfully, they were wrong about this one. Phew! 

700

A “silver paste,” is described in a Chinese medical text as a type of tooth filling material. Researchers consider this to be the first reference to a type of dental amalgam.

1210

Tooth hurt? Time to head to the barber. This year in France, a Guild of Barbers is established to care for individuals with tooth concerns. Two groups evolve from the effort: “surgeons who were educated and trained to perform complex surgical operations; and lay barbers, or barber-surgeons, who performed more routine hygienic services.

1400

Nearly two hundred years of tooth work from the guy who also cuts hair creates an awareness, that maybe it’s better to have trained doctors performing surgical procedures. From this point on, royal decrees allow lay barbers to perform only bleeding, cupping, leeching, and extracting teeth. Gulp (that’s still some serious stuff!).

1723

French surgeon, Pierre Fauchard, pens “The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth (Le Chirurgien Dentiste).” Today, we consider him to be the Father of Modern Dentistry. 

1746

Time for some metal! Gold crowns and posts placed after a root canal make an appearance, along with the suggestion that white enameling for gold crowns makes for a more esthetic appearance.

1789

Let’s make those broken teeth beautiful! Porcelain teeth are granted patent status – Frenchman Nicolas Dubois de Chemant gets the honors.

1790

Comfort and speed enter dentistry as one of George Washington’s dentists invents the first tooth drill (connected to a spinning wheel!), and the first chair specifically made for dental patients arrives, complete with an adjustable headrest and an arm extension to hold dental tools.

1832

Rest easy. The first reclining dental chair appears on the market!

1846

Public anesthesia demonstrations? Yes. Nearly twenty years before the American Civil War, dentist William Morton demonstrates ether anesthesia on a patient for surgery – in public. 



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