Oral Health Throughout History

dental x-ray and light improved throughout history

Have you ever wondered what dental practices were like in the middle ages? We’ve put together a brief history of oral health to answer your burning questions!

Ancient Times

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), in 5000 B.C., a Sumerian text described “tooth worms” causing dental decay. Later on, between 500 B.C. and 300 B.C., philosopher Aristotle and physician Hippocrates wrote about the eruption pattern of teeth. They also explained using wires to stabilize fractured jaws and loose teeth, and treating gum disease and decaying teeth.

Middle Ages

In 700 A.D., a Chinese medical text mentions the use of “silver paste,” an amalgam, to maintain oral health. In 1530, The Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth was published in Germany. This was the first book devoted entirely to dentistry. It covered oral hygiene, tooth extraction, drilling teeth, and placement of gold fillings.


In 1723, Pierre Fauchard, a French surgeon called the Father of Modern Dentistry, published The Surgeon Dentist, A Treatise on Teeth. Many consider this text as the foundation of modern dentistry. It includes oral anatomy, oral surgery techniques, and construction of dentures. Advancements in dentistry were also made in the 1700s. These included the first known case of post-mortem dental forensics, the first patent for porcelain teeth, the first known dental foot engine, and the first chair made specifically for dental patients.


In the 1800s, the establishment of many organizations and publications further cemented dentistry’s importance in the medical field. These included the first dental school, the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, the American Journal of Dental Science, the ADA, and more.

Advances in practices, tools, and materials were also made in the 19th century. A few of these included the commercial manufacture of porcelain teeth, the reclining dental chair, the vulcanization process for hardening rubber used to take molds of teeth, the use of ether anesthesia for surgery, the cohesive gold foil method allowing dentists to insert gold into a cavity with minimal pressure, the first electric dental engine with a self-contained motor and hand piece, tube toothpaste, and more.


The 1900s saw even more advancements made. The porcelain jacket crown was created, as well as the Vitallium dental screw implant and the first system for bonding acrylic resin to dentin. Dental professionals also began to use Novocain and a high-speed air-driven contra-angle hand piece. For home care, the nylon toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, and the electric toothbrush all saw widespread use.. Tooth-colored restorative materials helped usher in an era of esthetic dentistry.

There were also developments in organizations and practices such as the American Board of Orthodontics, water fluoridation, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, U.S. Army Dental Corps, and the first dental hygienist program.

Oral hygiene has come a long way since ancient times. At River Vista Dentistry, we take pride in utilizing the most advanced technologies and techniques. We want to educate you about your oral health and make sure you are coming in to see us regularly. Make an appointment for a cleaning with us today!

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