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    • 28 MAR 17
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    How dentistry has changed through the ages

    How dentistry has changed through the ages

    We’ve been looking after our dental health using intriguing techniques for thousands of years.

    How did our ancestors cope without toothpaste? What did the Victorians use to make dentures? How was a bandeau used to straighten teeth? Discover the answers in our blog. You’ll find some intriguing techniques our ancestors used for cleaning, securing, and replacing teeth.

    The first toothbrushes

    Way back in 3500-3000 BC, people across ancient Babylonia and Egypt used various types of chewing sticks to clean their teeth, or even just an index finger. Eventually across China, around 1600 BC, they started using chewing sticks made from aromatic trees to freshen their breath. Through the ages, they moved on to boar hair for brushing teeth while attached to a bone or bamboo stick, then eventually to softer horsehairs.

    herbal medicine

    Throughout history, our ancestors have come up up with some inventive ways to clean their teeth.

    Rags with crushed shell, soot, or salt were often used in prison which in 1770 led one English prisoner, William Addis, to come up with something a little more user-friendly. He saved a bone from his dinner and added tiny holes for bristles, which he then glued in place. He developed this invention on his release and went to work on manufacturing it.

    Throughout the 1800s bone handles were still used along with boar hair bristles. These tended to hold bacteria a little too well as they didn’t dry out properly. By the 1900s, celluloid began to replace bone handles and synthetic fibres replaced animal bristles. As this idea was developed, so was the idea of an electric toothbrush called the Broxodent, invented in Switzerland in 1954.

    How far we’ve come

    We now have a wide range of brushing tools for keeping teeth in tiptop condition including interdental brushes for between the teeth and the chewable brush for travellers. We can choose from a range of bristle softness and bristle materials like nylon and polyester. There are also various shaped heads like circular, or angled to help reach the back teeth better.

    The first toothpastes

    In 5000 BC people used tooth powder made of ash from ox hooves, myrrh, eggshell fragments, and pumice. It was probably rubbed on with a finger as there’s no evidence that brushes were used. Ancient Greeks and Romans seemed to like the more abrasive materials like crushed bones and oyster shells, and added powdered charcoal and bark for flavour. Similarly, the Chinese made toothpaste taste fresher by adding antibacterial ingredients such as ginseng, herbal mints, or salt.

    Through the 1700s baking soda was used in tooth powder. Soap and chalk were the new tooth cleaning ingredients throughout the 1800s, as was betel nut. In the 1850s, a toothpaste – as opposed to a tooth powder – was finally developed, and it came in a jar. This soap based Crème Dentifrice was mass-produced by Colgate, which a while after, began putting toothpaste into tubes.

    How far we’ve come

    Ingestible, foamless toothpaste was designed in the 1960s for NASA’s space crew. Nowadays we use toothpaste which helps combat cavities, plaque, and tooth decay as well as keep them looking their whitest by reducing staining. Many contain fluoride to help protect them, and mint extract to help freshen your breath.

    There are flavoured toothpastes to encourage children and adults to clean their teeth, as well as toothpastes for sensitive teeth and natural pastes made with tea tree, aloe vera, or essential oils.

    The first flosses

    Before our tough waxed floss was ever invented, our prehistoric ancestors probably used horsehair and twig toothpicks to get troublesome pieces of food out from between their teeth. The first actual dental floss was a thin silk thread which a dentist from New Orleans suggested his patients use in 1815. Nylon replaced silk in the 1940s, which didn’t shred so easily.

    How far we’ve come

    We now use more hygienic and robust materials like the waxy Gore-Tex, as well as flavoured and unwaxed floss, for different needs. There are ‘Y’ shape floss holders and even vibrating dental flossers to make flossing even easier.

    The first dentures

    From around 700 BC, the Italians made dentures or false teeth from human or animal teeth. This moved on eventually in the 1700s to ivory from elephants, walruses, and hippopotami. With the increase of sugar in our diets during the 1800s, it was time to test the waters with a different material. People tried porcelain, but it tended to chip easily. It was also too white to be convincing!

    Moving on from this, an entirely different material was mounted on porcelain – 18-carat gold plates, with gold springs and swivels. After the 1850s a hardened rubber called Vulcanite formed an outer layer to porcelain dentures, making dentures harder wearing.

    How far we’ve come

    These days we can make dentures look very natural by colour matching and using acrylic, nylon or metal. Complete or partial dentures are available depending whether you need a whole row of teeth replacing, or just a few. There is also the option of dental implants  which screw directly into the jawbone.

    Published: March 21st 2017 by Denplan

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