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Dental Doctoring Throughout History

Sink your teeth into this timeline.

By Sylvia Morrow
Oct 4, 2017 12:00 AMFeb 10, 2021 10:00 PM
Cavity in Tooth - Stefano Benazzi/University of Bologna
A cavity. (Credit: Stefano Benazzi/University of Bologna)


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A trip to the dentist can be a real pain, even if you’re not among the roughly 1 in 10 people with high anxiety about dental treatments. But a whirring electric drill in your mouth may not seem so bad once you read about these ancient approaches to dentistry.

12000 B.C. | Chip off the ol’ chomper: 

The first known attempt at dental work, as evidenced in a skeleton unearthed in Italy in 1988 with a molar that had been chipped at with a stone tool.

(Credit: The National Museum of Dentistry after original owned by the German Dental Association)

5000 B.C. | Legend of the tooth worm: 

The first documented reference, in a Sumerian text, of a myth popular throughout the ancient world that a worm living in your gums caused dental pain and cavities.

2650 B.C. | First dentist: 

Wooden panels found in ancient Egyptian physician Hesy-Re’s tomb describe him as “Chief of Dentists and Physicians,” the earliest recorded mention of a dentist.

A.D. 20 | A steamy solution: 

Roman folk tradition recommends a minty steam bath to treat toothaches.

Pierre Fauchard. (Credit: Le Chirurgien Dentiste/A Paris Chez Serviers, 178)

A.D. 1847 | Filling the gap: 

Edwin Truman introduces a natural latex called gutta-percha, made from trees found in Southeast Asia, for use in root canal fillings. Previously, dentists had used anything from silver to lead to asbestos.

A.D. 1965 | Laser power: 

Researchers find that treatment with dental lasers makes teeth more resistant to decay. Studies since have suggested laser treatment could, in some procedures, help protect teeth, reduce pain and accelerate healing.

(Credit: Lucadp/Shutterstock)

Future | Print a new one: 

3-D printers and digital scanning technology are close to offering easy ways to make and reproduce custom dental products like crowns and veneers.

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