A Look Back at the Roots of Dental History

It might be surprising to know that just a hundred years ago, some 50 percent of adults had missing teeth. In our modern society, things like brushing one’s teeth after meals and going to the dentist for regular cleanings is pretty much accepted as the norm–as is not walking around with constant mouth pain. Obviously, that was not always the case. It’s amazing how far the dental industry has come in the past centuries, and this is something that is often overlooked in favor of other, more “glamorous” scientific advancements.

Ancient Dentistry

We can trace tooth-related treatment all the way back to 7000 BC. Evidence has been found that the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the earliest known civilizations, treated the mouth for tooth decay. These early treatments were generally performed through the use of bow drills, which are ancient tools that were also used for woodworking.

Within the next couple of thousand years, the Sumerians blamed dental issues on “tooth worms,” which they believed bore holes into the teeth so they could hide inside the teeth. Some ancient doctors even thought nerves were tooth worms and tried to pull them out! (Talk about pain!!) People actually believed in teeth worms for many centuries–in fact, as long as up to the 1700s!


In ancient Greece, Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about treating decayed teeth as well as having teeth extracted to keep mouth pain away. The concept of having a tooth extracted from the mouth through using forceps was often used to treat many diseases into the middle ages.

It’s interesting to note that the “professionals” doing these extractions during the Middle Ages were not doctors or other medical workers–they were barbers. Apparently these hair cutters used something called a “dental pelican” and then a “dental key” to extract teeth. Both of these tools looked had a similar look to the modern-day forceps.

The Beginning of Modern Dentistry

By the mid-seventeenth century, modern dentistry as we know it today had its beginning. Credited with this science is the French physician Pierre Fauchard, who is called “the father of modern dentistry.” Many of the procedures we use today in the dentistry field began with him. Dental fillings, for example, was something he thought up. He also identified that acids from sugar were one of the main causes of tooth decay.



By 1840, there was even a dental college–the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 1840. The government soon began to oversee the industry, with the American Dental Association eventually forming in 1859 and still in existence today with some 155,000 members.

Even so, Americans didn’t start brushing their teeth regularly until after the second World War until after soldiers who had been stationed abroad brought the trend back with them.

Dental care has certainly come a long way since then with most Americans fully aware of the health aspects of proper dental care as well as the cosmetic appearance of their teeth.