A History Of Oral Health

You may assume that taking care of your teeth is a relatively modern development. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evidence suggests people have been cleaning and caring for their teeth for thousands of years.

Cleaning Implements

Early people used simple tools such as tree bark or twigs with frayed ends to clean their teeth and mouths in Babylonia as early as 3500 B.C. Feathers, bones, and even porcupine quills were used to clean between teeth during the Greek and Roman empires. However, the first modern toothbrush wasn’t developed until the late 1400s when the Chinese attached hog hair bristles to a piece of bamboo.

That model may have been the basis for the first mass-produced toothbrush. In 1780, a British inmate drilled holes in a small piece of bone leftover from a meal. He added boar bristles and secured them with glue. Upon his release, the inmate started selling the brushes. Today, the company he founded continues to sell toothbrushes in the UK today under the brand name Wisdom Toothbrushes.

Other fun toothbrush facts:

  • The first nylon-bristled brush was introduced in 1938 by Dupont.
  • The electric toothbrush was created in the 1950s by a Swiss investor.

Tooth Powder?

As people started using commercially produced toothbrushes, they also began using more toothpaste. While toothpaste isn’t a modern invention, it looked a lot different in years past. Ancient Egyptians used a mixture of flowers, mint leaves, pepper, and salt as a tooth cleanser. Other ancient societies crushed ox hooves, bone, or oyster shells to create a powder for their teeth. Asian cultures combined ginseng with mint and salt.

The first mass-market formulas were sold as powders and contained chalk, charcoal, or soap. Creme Dentifrice was one of the first tooth powders sold directly to consumers. Beginning in the 1850s, individual dentists mixed the formula and sold it to their patients. Colgate began manufacturing and selling jarred toothpaste in 1873. Some 20 years later, the collapsible tube that we’re familiar with today was invented, allowing toothpaste to reach even more consumers.

Barbers and Dentists

Dental professionals have been around for eons, too. The earliest known dentist was an Egyptian named Hesy-Re who died in 2600 B.C. Between 500 and 300 B.C., Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about the practice of dentistry, including wiring broken jaws together, treating and extracting decayed teeth, and the eruption pattern of teeth. Roman medical writers were penning how-to manuals on oral care in 100 BC, and the Etruscans utilized gold crowns to restore teeth around 200 AD. In 700 AD, the Chinese began using a silver paste to correct tooth decay.

In 1210, the Guild of Barbers was established in France. While some members of the group learned complex surgical procedures, others performed more basic hygienic services, such as tooth extraction. By 1530, a book had been written with specific information for barbers and surgeons who specialized in oral care. Some 200 years later, Pierre Fauchard, the father of modern dentistry, published “The Surgeon Dentist: A Treatise on the Teeth.” John Baker, the first professionally trained dentist in America, emigrated in 1760. Richard Skinner wrote the first dental book to be published in America in 1801, and the first professional journal about dental practice began publication in 1839.

Other notable dental inventions:

  • 1789: First patent for porcelain teeth
  • 1832: First reclining dental chair
  • 1840: World’s first dental school in Baltimore
  • 1841: First law regulating dental practice
  • 1846: First anesthetic for dental surgery
  • 1859: American Dental Association is formed
  • 1871: Dental drill and foot treadle patented
  • 1896: First dental x-ray taken
  • 1905: Novocain is created
  • 1960: Lasers are developed for soft-tissue work
  • 1989: At-home bleaching products are marketed

How History Has Shaped Modern Dentistry

Indeed, much has changed in dental care over the past 3,000 years, but dental professionals like Dr. Tiffany Shields remain committed to their patients’ oral health by studying older and new innovations in the dental world. Contact us today for an appointment or to discuss cosmetic dentistry in Jacksonville, Fl.


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Smiles by Shields
3940 San Jose Park Dr.
Jacksonville, FL 32217