The thought of how our forefathers lived without modern conveniences and luxuries can inspire a deep sense of gratitude. We’re not talking about how Gen Z wonders in horror and how we did portrait photography before ring lights. Instead, we would like to explore how previous generations treated dental health and aesthetics and the evolution of braces.
Did prehistoric children fear the first dentist? The advent of lollipops revolutionized the way children were calmed down, but how did they do it before?
Anyone who has ever experienced orthodontics will feel uncomfortable with its old practices and norms. It wasn’t until 1884 that local anesthesia was used in any procedure, so humans endured the dentist’s chair within their limits of pain tolerances (ouch!).
It was a great ordeal to undergo basic procedures such as a simple tooth extraction. In many cases, dental practitioners used chains to restrain their patients while they yanked out decaying and rotting teeth. A photo record of this practice exists, and brave readers can find some here.
One fascinating thing to note about ancient civilizations is that they practiced incredibly similar techniques to those used in modern orthodontics. Metal and small gold wire were found woven through and around the teeth of ancient human remains, resembling dental braces!
Discover the history of braces and how they were discovered and developed with this ultimate guide!
History of Braces: A Comprehensive Timeline
The history of braces is not a linear journey. There’s no denying that ancient humans used metal wires to make what looks like “ancient braces.” However, these dental techniques were used for different purposes than modern braces. Instead, ancient humans were believed to have prepared burial ceremonies by creating holes in their teeth and threading wires through the holes and around them.
The History of Braces Starts in the Antiquity
Ancient Egyptians were among the first civilizations to emphasize oral hygiene — they had to deal with sand in their mouths constantly, and they ate hard bread. Eventually, both of these factors lead to decay and tooth loss.
In ancient Egypt, dental practitioners were determined to prevent people from passing into the afterlife with crooked teeth. According to archaeologists, primitive dental braces were installed after death. This knowledge, however, raises the question of whether this is a manifestation of modern fears and a desire to avoid the idea of straightening teeth without modern analgesics.
Rather than have decaying or rotting teeth extracted, ancient Romans and Greeks endured the pain and discomfort associated with decaying and rotting teeth. There is even a provision in the Roman Law of the Twelve Tables for fining those who knocked out someone else’s teeth!
Similar to modern society, the Mayans recognized the importance of prophylactic measures to prevent infection and discomfort in the oral cavity. Mayan dentists even recommended saline solutions after dental treatment. Mayan teeth were also dyed and bejeweled with precious stones.
The Recoil of Orthodontics During the Dark Ages
Even though ancient civilizations practiced some elementary orthodontic treatments to straighten teeth, orthodontics essentially stalled in the Dark Ages.
It was during this period, however, that other types of dental treatment became more bearable. Henceforth, patients started using different forms of pain relief, according to University of Illinois professor Michael Colvard.
The Crusades introduced Western physicians to Arab medicine and its potent effects on pain management. This period was characterized by the use of opium, marijuana, and tobacco as analgesics.
The Dawn of Dental Braces: Pierre Fauchard and Etienne Bourdet
Modern dentistry is credited to the pioneering work of the French dentist Pierre Fauchard (1679-1761). A significant step towards modern orthodontic braces was Fauchard’s recommendation that metal or folded silk be used as ligature wires for straightening teeth. According to Fauchard, in his book “The Surgeon Dentist: Or, Treatise on Teeth,” these wires should be soaked in hot water before they are wrapped around a patient’s teeth. As an alternative to wires, he advocates using metal plates as lingual braces in stubborn cases.
Etienne Bourdet (1722-1789), another French dentist, was greatly influenced by Fauchard’s work and made revolutionary contributions to dentistry and orthodontics himself. Six hundred fifty pages of his book discuss early braces and teeth straightening, building on Fauchard’s ideas. Moreover, Bourdet noted that other teeth might require a space created by removing the first bicuspid tooth.
The Rise of Modern Orthodontics Until the 20th Century
As part of the French contribution to the development of modern orthodontics, Christophe-François Delabarre introduced wire cribs in 1819, which bear a striking resemblance to modern, traditional braces. Some consider Delabarre’s works to be the first instance of modern orthodontics.
The Birth of Modern Braces in the 20th Century
Several orthodontic practices forming the foundation of contemporary orthodontics were widely adopted and standardized during the 20th century. American WWI soldiers were equipped with aluminum dentures, which were later abandoned due to the metal’s heat-conducting properties. Modern acrylic resin, however, became the material of choice by the 1940s.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Edward Angle owned 37 patents for orthodontic appliances. Both dentists and orthodontists used these tools to treat teeth and install braces.
The stemming of tooth decay was another factor that accelerated the adoption of braces. In turn, advancements in microbiology made dental braces more accessible, safer, and more viable as dental practitioners become more aware of the causes of decaying teeth.
The Zenith of the History of Braces: Clear Aligners
Align Technology, the manufacturer of Invisalign, was founded in 1997 by two Stanford MBA students, Zia Chisti and Kelsey Wirth. As the entrepreneurs correctly predicted, clear aligners, a form of transparent braces, would be wildly popular among people seeking subtly straightened teeth. Invisalign sales in 2016 reached $1 billion, illustrating the success of clear aligners.
As they say, the rest is history.
Learn More About Dental Braces at Patuxent Orthodontics!
Contact Patuxent Orthodontics if braces are the solution to your dental woes. Whether you want to learn more about the benefits of braces or simply have questions about the process, use our live chat or call (240) 802-7217 or send us a message through our contact us page to connect with our friendly staff today and book a free consultation! Our office, located at 44220 Airport View Dr., Hollywood, MD 20636, proudly serves Maryland’s Patuxent area, as well as the Greater Washington DC area. So, if you’re residing in California, Lexington Park, and Great Mills and are looking for one of the best orthodontists in MD, don’t hesitate to visit our office! We also invite you to keep up with our blog to get answers to many of the frequently asked questions about maintaining sparkling oral health and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to become a part of our smiling community!
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- “Pain and Suffering of Toothache in the Dark Ages of Dentistry.” Pain and Suffering of Toothache in the Dark Ages of Dentistry | UIC Today, today.uic.edu/shedding-light-on-dark-ages-dentistry/. Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.
- Thomsen, Michael. “What Did People Do to Their Teeth before Braces?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 July 2015, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/braces-dentures-history/397934/. Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.
- DiBacco, Thomas V. “The Origins of Orthodontics.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Sept. 1995, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1995/09/19/the-origins-of-orthodontics/3bf16abe-f5f1-4667-a143-54e5a5b77464/. Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.