• Best Practices New Normal
  • Digital Dentistry
  • Data Security
  • Implants
  • Catapult Education
  • COVID-19
  • Digital Imaging
  • Laser Dentistry
  • Restorative Dentistry
  • Cosmetic Dentistry
  • Periodontics
  • Oral Care
  • Evaluating Dental Materials
  • Cement and Adhesives
  • Equipment & Supplies
  • Ergonomics
  • Products
  • Dentures
  • Infection Control
  • Orthodontics
  • Technology
  • Techniques
  • Materials
  • Emerging Research
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Endodontics
  • Oral-Systemic Health

20 surprising facts about dental health history

Issue 3

Did you know that braces date back to at least 4,000 years ago or that Lucy B. Hobbs was the first woman to graduate from dental school?  

Did you know that braces date back to at least 4,000 years ago or that Lucy B. Hobbs was the first woman to graduate from dental school?


  • According to many scholars and historians dental braces date back to ancient times, coming into existence around 2022–2030 BC. Around 400-300 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle contemplated about ways to straighten teeth and to fix various dental conditions.

  • Saint Apollonia was one of a group of virgin martyrs who suffered in Alexandria during a local uprising against the Christians prior to the persecution of Decius. According to legend, her torture included having all of her teeth violently pulled out or shattered. For this reason, she is regarded as the patroness of dentistry and those suffering from toothache or other dental problems.

  • The Maya Civilization has been shown to have used the earliest known examples of endosseous implants (implants embedded into bone). While excavating Maya burial sites in Honduras in 1931, archaeologists found a fragment of mandible of Maya origin, dating from about 600 AD. This mandible, which is considered to be that of a woman in her twenties, had three tooth-shaped pieces of shell placed into the sockets of three missing lower incisor teeth.

  • The first bristle toothbrush (hog bristle) was invented in China during the Tang Dynasty (619-907). Travelers to China brought the bristle toothbrush to Europe during the seventeenth century. Many mass-produced toothbrushes, made with horse or boar bristle, were imported to England from China until the mid-20th century. The first nylon bristle toothbrush, made with nylon yarn, went on sale on February 24, 1938.

  • The Operator for Teeth was published in 1685. It was the first dental book by Charles Allen. There are only two known copies of the 1685 edition - one is in the library of the
    College of Dentistry at New York University and the other is in York Minster.

  • John Greenwood (1760-1819) was the son of Isaac Greenwood, the first native-born American dentist. John was responsible for designing Washington’s famous dentures from hippopotamus tusk. A letter from John Greenwood to Lt. General George Washington on his denture charges, dated 1799, is in the A.D. Black History of Dentistry Collection at Northwestern University.

  • In 1816, Auguste Taveau developed his own dental amalgam from silver coins and mercury, but he did not use the amalgam until ten years later. Eventually, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared dental amalgam as a medical device and currently regulates it.

  • The first time nitrous oxide was used as an anesthetic drug in the treatment of a patient was when dentist Horace Wells, with assistance by Gardner Quincy Colton and John Mankey Riggs, demonstrated insensitivity to pain from a dental extraction on 11 December 1844. Wells was grateful, as he would lose sleep over the pain he caused to his dental patients.

  • Dentists and doctors used other objects to fill teeth over the centuries, including stone chips, turpentine resin, gum, metals, cork, lead, and gold foil. After truly effective dental cement was developed, baked porcelain (a hard, white ceramic) inlays came into use for filling large cavities. These were first described by B. Wood in 1862.

  • The first woman who graduated in the field of dentistry was Miss Lucy B. Hobbs of New York. She matriculated in the Cincinnati Dental College in the fall of 1864. Having received her diploma, she opened an office in Iowa; from thence she removed to Chicago, and practiced successfully.

  • The first use of dental records in the identification of victims of mass disaster was probably the fire at the Vienna Opera House in 1878. Dental remains were also used to identify some of the 126 dead in a fire in Paris in 1897, which prompted the writing of the first textbook on forensic dentistry by the pioneering figure Oscar Amoedo. Since then, forensic odontology has been used to identify the victims of many other major incidents such as plane crashes, fires, and terrorist attacks.

  • Dr. C Edmund Kells became a pioneer in the profession of dentistry and medicine with his numerous inventions and publications. His most significant invention was the surgical aspirator for dental and medical surgery, still utilized today. Kells was also one of the first dentists to hire a female dental assistant and the first to expose a dental radiograph in the U.S. in 1896. His x-ray experiments caused the loss of most of his left arm. He committed suicide at age 72 in 1928.

  • Fluoride research had its beginnings in 1901, when a young dental student, Frederick McKay arrived in Colorado Springs to learn that scores of his patients had brown stains on their teeth, but that those teeth were resistant to decay. It was years later, in 1930, when it was discovered that flourine was in the water, and in other springs where this phenomenon occurred. Today, fluoride continues to be dental science’s main weapon in the battle against tooth decay.

  • In the early 1900s, Green Vardiman Black organized “Black’s Classification of Caries Lesions,” which still is in use today. Since that time, only one more category has been added to his classification system.

  • In 1907, William McTaggart invented his lost wax casting machine to be used in dentistry to make precision cast fillings. He borrowed an ancient jewelery-making technique dating back to prehistoric Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Han Dynasty in China, and the Benin civilization in Africa.

  • The modern incarnation of the dental drill is the air turbine handpiece, developed by John Patrick Walsh (later knighted) and members of the staff of the Dominion Physical Laboratory (DPL) Wellington, New Zealand, in 1949. Dr. John Borden developed it in America and it was first commercially manufactured and distributed by the DENTSPLY Company as the Borden Airotor in 1957.

  • In 1958 in Des Moines, Iowa, John Naughton sold his first full-reclining dental chair for $800, delivering it personally in a hearse. He incorporated his Den-Tal-Eze Manufacturing Co. in 1961. Within three years, annual sales reached $1 million and made old sit-down dental chairs obsolete. In 1969, Naughton sold his venture to his employees for more than $8 million and retired at age 53.

  • In current news, dentists recommend that a toothbrush be kept at least six feet away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush. Yes, they’re talking about coliform bacteria (E. coli).

  • Although there was a sudden massive surge of patients with tooth decay the year cola was launched (the late nineteenth century, it wasn’t until 2004 that a study showed that non-cola soft drinks caused two to five times the damage as darker drinks, such as Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper. Additionally, root beer proved to be the safest soft drink tested.

  • In 2007, a study of Australians who were fearful of dentists produced a conclusion that people with high dental fear are more likely to delay treatment, leading to more extensive dental problems and symptomatic visiting patterns which feed back into the maintenance or exacerbation of existing dental fear.
Related Videos
Mastermind – Episode 35 – Finding Strength in Our Differences
The Uptime Health Story: An Interview with Uptime Health CEO and Co-Founder Jinesh Patel
Mastermind – Episode 34: Proactive Dentistry, Diagnostics, and Early Detection
2024 Dental Products Report Spring Selection Bracket Reveal Video
Process of Care Workflow and Repairing Early Caries with Guided Enamel Remineralization
Addressing Unmet Needs in Early Childhood Oral Care - an interview with Ashlet Lerman, DDS
Mastermind Episode 33 – Charting the Course for the Future of Dentistry
CDS 2024 Midwinter Meeting – Interview with Debbie Zafiropoulos, who discusses a trio of new infection control products from Armis Biopharma.
2024 Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting – Interview with Peter Maroon, business development and sales lead at Spectrum Solutions® on the new salivary diagnostic test, SimplyPERIO.
CDS 2024: Ivoclar's e.max ZirCAD Prime Blocks with Shashi Singhal, BDS, MS
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.