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A Brief History of Advances in Dentistry

Posted on 22.07.2014 by perfectsmile

The days when a dental surgery was a place which you only visited in cases of emergency, after an accident or when you were suffering painful toothache have thankfully long gone. A modern clinic works in a holistic manner to improve and maintain the health and appearance of its’ patients teeth, and you can now access cosmetic dentistry treatments in London which are capable of completely transforming the appearance of your smile. This hasn’t happened overnight, however, and it’s important to recognise the contribution to modern dentistry which has been made over the years by clinicians and technicians determined to work at what was then the cutting edge of technology. The following are just a few of the more important advances which have been made over the years: Toothpaste and Brushes The earliest known toothbrushes were simply small sticks which had been split into fibres at one end to create a ‘brush’ effect, in the manner of a miniature broomstick. The origin of the first brush to actually have bristles is believed to be China, and the idea was taken up by European countries during the 17th Century. The next advance was the patenting of the first electric toothbrush, which occurred in 1880, although it wasn’t a particularly effective piece of equipment until it was improved by Swiss technicians shortly after the Second World War. This began to be used in America in approximately 1960, with the first cordless model marking the point at which electric toothbrushes became truly popular just a year or so after.

The creation of a rudimentary form of toothpaste can also be traced back to early and primitive civilisations. Back then, the primary aim of the ‘paste’ was to act as an abrasive which would help to shift food particles and other substances from the teeth. To this end, ingredients utilised might include dried flowers, talcum powder, honey, ground up shells and powdered fruit, although evidence has been found of pastes which included slightly less agreeable ingredients, such as urine, lizard livers and rabbit heads. Needless to say, they wouldn’t have left your breath smelling minty fresh.  Recipes have been found dating back as far as ancient times and on into the Middle Ages although, unfortunately, many of the recipes contained ingredients which would actually dissolve the enamel of the teeth. A substance which we would recognise as toothpaste began to emerge in the 19th century, and the ingredients would have included soap and chalk. The first toothpaste tube was marketed in 1892, and remained the default means of dispensing the product until the introduction of the pump dispenser in 1984. Fluoride was first introduced to toothpaste by the company Proctor and Gamble in 1956. Fluoride in the water The concept of putting fluoride in drinking water was one which was first stumbled upon by Frederick McKay, a dentist in Colorado Springs, Colorado, during the early 1900s, after he noticed brown stains on the local people’s teeth, which he attributed to high levels of fluoride occurring naturally in the local water. Despite the ‘mottling’, as he called it, he also noticed that local people had lower than normal levels of tooth decay. By 1940, dentists had figured out that one part of fluoride to a million parts water was the correct ratio to prevent cavities without causing stains on the enamel, and now more than 60% of the water in America is fluoridated. False Teeth Contemporary false teeth are more or less impossible to distinguish from the real thing, but this hasn’t always been the case. Legend has it that American president George Washington has a set of false teeth made out of wood, but this is certainly not the case, since wood would actually be destroyed by the corrosive properties of saliva. The truth is that Washington’s false teeth were created using a range of different substances, including, gruesomely, teeth which had been taken from human and animal corpses. For a long while, the application of false teeth remained in this rather primitive state, with genuine teeth taken from donors alive or dead being held in place using silk threads or springs. The problems with these teeth were multiple – they had to be removed before falling out when the patient was eating and drinking and would soon begin to decay, although the very wealthy got round that particular problem by having teeth fashioned from gold or silver. We have to wait until 1774 for a French dentist and pharmacist to create a set of teeth crafted from porcelain. Over the years, the concept was gradually improved and refined, particularly in 1808, when an Italian dentist created an individual porcelain tooth mounted on a platinum pin, in the manner of a modern implant. Another big breakthrough took place in 1839, when dentists began using vulcanised rubber to hold false teeth in place. At a modern clinic, the dentures will be constructed from either ceramic or plastic. Anaesthetic Anyone who worries or fears visiting the dentist should thank their lucky stars that they are around in the age of anaesthetic, when pain free treatments such as extraction are possible. In ancient times, teeth which had to be removed were simply knocked out with a chisel and mallet, evolving to the use of forceps by the Greeks and Romans.  It wasn’t until the 1790’s that a British chemist began experimenting with the use of nitrous oxide to lessen pain, noting both its’ effectiveness and the side effect which led to it being nicknamed ‘laughing gas’. By the year 1863, the gas was being combined with oxygen and utilised during surgery. Nitrous oxide was a general anaesthetic, but in the years running up to the 1900’s experiments with local anaesthetic were taking place. For a while, cocaine was used, until its addictive nature began to be understood, and the search for an alternative began. This search led to a German chemist discovering procaine, which he named Novocaine, in 1905, and the drug was an instant popular success with dentists and patients.

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