The Early Years Of Dentistry

We are familiar with the teeth, mouth, gums, and tongue. We know about common oral diseases and some remedies for them. But, do you know how the story of dentistry began?

The history of Dentistry is often regarded to have begun with the Indus Valley Civilization as early as 7,000 B.C. Archaeological findings from the civilization, which grew around the Indus Valley during the Bronze Age, suggested the use of drills made from flint heads to cure a toothache.

In Slovenia, a human mandible believed to be 6,500 years old displayed signs of using beeswax as a dental filling. The use of beeswax to fill exposed dentin and a vertical crack on a tooth’s upper part is the earliest known proof of therapeutic-palliative dental filling.

Accounts believed to be related to Dentistry, particularly tooth decay, from 5,000 B.C. were also found. The “Legend of the Worm,” a Sumerian text on clay, identified “tooth worms” as the cause of tooth decay. According to the text, the “worms” drink the blood in the mouth and feed on the teeth’s bone.

Although it seemed far-fetched if told now, the belief on “tooth worms” was widespread during that time that even medical historians of ancient civilizations like India, Egypt, Japan, and China propagated the “Legend of the Worm” as the source of tooth decay. Greek poet Home and French physician Guy de Chauliac also subscribed to the belief.

Egyptian high court official Hesy-Re is recognized as the “first dentist.” Having died in 2,600 B.C., the high court official’s mastaba, a flat-roofed, rectangular type of ancient tomb in Egypt, was initially excavated in 1861. However, it was only in 1910 and 1912 when the main excavation works took place. In his mastaba, a panel was discovered bearing the inscription “Chief of Dentists and Physicians,” which is the earliest known titles related to dental surgery and medicine.

Also, ancient Egyptian medical papyrus such as the Brugsch Papyrus, Hearst Papyrus, Ebers Papyrus, and Kahun Papyrus contained recipes for treatments of a toothache, loose teeth, and infections. Edwin Smith Papyrus, also an Egyptian medical text, provided an account of the treatment of jaw dislocation and fracture.

The Code of Hammurabi, which dates to 1754 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia, considered tooth extraction as a form of punishment.

Greek philosopher Aristotle and Greek physician Hippocrates wrote about dental-related topics like the pattern of tooth eruption, the use of forceps in tooth extraction, stabilizing a loose tooth using wires, about fractured jaws, and treatments for gum disease and tooth decay.

Around 100 B.C. in Rome, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a known encyclopedist, wrote widely on jaw fractures, treatments for a loose tooth, teething pain, and toothache, and oral care in his work De Medicina.

The Etruscans, which was considered a wealthy and influential civilization in ancient Italy, were believed to have used gold crowns and fixed bridgework as forms of dental prosthetics between 166 to 201 A.D.

Although accounts of dental practice have been present during the ancient civilization, it was in the Middle Ages when Dentistry has begun gaining position and being recognized as a significant practice which is distinct from general medicine.