A Brief History of Dental Practices Throughout the Ages

13 Apr 2017  |  No Comments

While it is easy to think of dentistry as a very modern practice, it has a long history – one that dates back to ancient times. What we now know as modern dentistry didn’t come about until much later, and is definitely something we can all be thankful for today! Here’s a brief rundown of the history of dentistry.


Oldest known dentistry

  • An ancient decayed and infected molar that had been cleaned with flint tools was found in Italy in 1988. The tooth is considered to be up to 14,000 years old.
  • 9,000-year-old teeth from a graveyard in Pakistan showed evidence of having been drilled to remove decay.
  • A tooth from 6,500 years ago containing beeswax filling was discovered in Slovenia, and is believed to be the earliest evidence of teeth-filling.
  • Ancient texts from as far back as 5,000 BC describe tooth ‘worms’ as the cause of decay – a belief that continued for several centuries throughout many parts of the world.


  • The ancient Egyptians suffered considerable tooth decay from the hard matter (such as stones and sand) that made its way into their food. Evidence of dental practices in Egypt such as fillings, drilling, replacement teeth bound with gold wire and medicines date back to around 3,000 BC.
  • Roman writer Celsus who lived until about 50 AD wrote about treatments for toothache, fractured jaws, and loose teeth.


The middle ages

  • In the 14th century an instrument specifically for removing teeth was invented – known as the ‘dental pelican’.
  • During much of the Middle Ages extractions were practised by barbers and doctors, as dentistry was not yet a regulated specialist profession.
  • In 1685 Charles Allen published the book “The Operators for the Teeth” which includes some weird and wonderful treatments that would be quite frightening to us today!

The start of modern dentistry

  • Modern dental practices are considered to have been founded by Pierre Fauchard, an ethical French physician who wrote considerably on teeth and dentistry in the 1700s, and who remains an early role-model even for dentists today. His writings include “The Surgeon Dentist”, a book which describes oral anatomy and treatments, and methods for tooth replacement and transplants. Fauchard also disproved the tooth-worm theory, recognised that acids from sugar were a major cause of decay, developed new methods for replacing lost teeth and for straightening teeth with wire braces.
  • In the mid-18th century Claude Mouton made the first gold crown for root canal treatment, and recommended white enamelling to disguise the gold.
  • Methods of pain relief using nitrous oxide and ether were developed during the mid-1800s, followed by the invention of the hypodermic needle later on.
  • The world’s first dental college was opened in 1840 in Baltimore in the US, while in 1878 the UK Dentist Act was passed, which regulated the practice of dentistry.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries many advancements were made in dentistry, and still continue to be made today. Dentistry has certainly progressed in leaps and bounds, which means we can visit a Ryde dentist today with confidence that our needs will be attended to with professionalism and care. For more information, contact our Ryde dental care clinic.

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