Interesting Facts from the History of Orthodontics

Orthodontics might seem like the most modern branch of dentistry, but the "perfect smile" has been a project since Ancient Egypt. Through varied devices and techniques, orthodontics gradually developed to become the sophisticated practice it is today.

Poorly aligned teeth and jaws have always affected our ability to chew and speak; it isn't surprising that the history of orthodontics goes back thousands of years:

Ancient Orthodontics

Archaeologists have found crooked teeth in human remains dating back 50,000 years, according to Norman Wahl in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics. Nowadays, orthodontists use braces to correct misaligned teeth, and something very similar has been found in Egyptian mummies. Many of the mummies had crude metal bands around their teeth, and archaeologists believed catgut may have been tied to these bands to provide pressure to move the teeth.

The Ancient Greeks, the Etruscans and the Romans also practiced orthodontia. David Evans, DDS describes a gold band that was used on Etruscan women to preserve the position of the teeth after death, and the Ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, wrote the first known description of tooth irregularities around 400 B.C. A Roman writer named Celsus, 400 years later, recommended bringing newly emerging teeth into their proper position by regularly pushing them with your fingers. To correct elongated teeth, another Roman named Pliny the Elder, who lived from 23 to 79 A.D., advised filing them to size.

17th and 18th Centuries

Dental Impressions began around the beginning of the 17th century with Matthaeus Gottfried Purmann, who reported using wax to take impressions. Then in 1756, Phillip Pfaff used plaster of Paris.

Ultimately, progress in orthodontics stalled after ancient times until the 18th century, which saw a surge in development. Pierre Fauchard, born in 1728, is considered the Father of Dentistry, having invented an appliance called bandeau. This horseshoe-shaped strip of metal contained regularly spaced holes that fit around the teeth to correct their alignment. Fauchard would also operate on patients with a set of forceps called a pelican, forcibly realigning teeth and tying them to the neighboring teeth to hold them in place while they healed.

Then, Christophe-François Delabarre (1787-1862) tried separating overcrowded teeth by inserting swelling threads or wooden wedges between each space.

Orthodontics in the United States

Significant contributions to the practice of orthodontics in the United States began in the 19th century, according to Wahl. In 1822, J.S. Gunnell invented the occipital anchorage, a form of headgear that fastens to the jaw from the outside of the mouth to exert gentle pressure on the teeth. Then in 1840, Chapin A. Harris published the first classic book on dentistry, "The Dental Art," outlining practices such as soldering knobs on bands to assist with tooth rotation, and applying gold caps to molars to open the dental bite. When Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber in 1839, orthodontists realized the new material's potential. In 1846, E.G. Tucker became the first American dentist to use rubber in orthodontic appliances.

Entering the 20th Century

No history of orthodontics is complete without a mention of Edward Hartley Angle, considered the Father of Modern Orthodontics. A man with a range of achievements listed in the Journal of Advanced Oral Research, he identified the true properties of a malocclusion, or misalignment, and addressed them with an increasingly effective set of orthodontic appliances beginning in 1880.

Advances in the 1970s

Prior to the 1970s, orthodontists had anchored brackets to teeth by winding wires around each tooth. But according to Dr. Evans, the invention of dental adhesives meant that they could instead stick the brackets to teeth surfaces. Meanwhile, stainless steel replaced gold and silver as the most popular choice for wires due to its manipulability, reducing braces costs significantly. Lingual braces, which run along teeth's inside surfaces, were also first introduced in the 1970s to address the aesthetic concerns we still have today.

Nowadays, many dental products are available for orthodontic patients. Toothbrushes such as Colgate® Slim Soft are easy to use around braces, helping to clean teeth effectively without damaging the wiring. Like the Ancient Egyptians, it is clear that healthy and well-aligned teeth are of the utmost importance.

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