10 Facts About the History of Dentistry

In 2017, there’s not much we can’t manage in the way of oral health and dentistry, but that hasn’t always been the case. Although it’s thought to have been the first specialisation from medicine, dentistry science really didn’t advance very far until the 19th century, so there are centuries of fascinating, gruesome and misguided dental theories and practices. This week, we pluck ten of the most interesting facts from dentistry’s long history.

  1. One of the oldest medical professions, there is evidence of teeth being drilled as part of a dentistry practice in the Indus Valley Civilisation as early as 7000 B.C.
  2. The first descriptions of dentistry date to 5000 B.C. in a Sumerian text which attributes dental decay to dental worms.
  3. Hippocrates and Aristotle both wrote about the subject of dentistry. Hippocrates believed that all dental problems stemmed from inherited weaknesses in the body. Aristotle on the other hand recommended cautery with a red-hot wire to treat dental issues.
  4. Until the Church forbade in in the 12th century, dentistry and other medical practices were carried out by monks. The Church’s ban gave rise to a new profession, that of the barber surgeon, a man who cut hair, performed surgery, and pulled teeth.
  5. Toothbrushes were invented in China in 1498, but didn’t reach England until the 17th Until that time, people used small sticks or twigs frayed at one edge to create a larger cleaning surface.
  6. There is evidence of toothpaste being used from ancient civilisations but it was a far cry from the minty paste in a tube we know today. Some common early ingredients include ground up or burnt eggshells, powdered fruit, honey, talc or dried flowers. Some of the less palatable ingredients included urine, lizard livers, rabbit heads and mice.
  7. Dentistry was an informal skill and was a trade learnt by apprenticeship until the late 19th The first school dedicated to dentistry was only opened in 1828 where as the first medical schools date back to the 9th century.
  8. In ancient times, teeth were restored with either ivory or bone replicas but the practice was lost until the mid 19th In the centuries in between, extracted teeth were either not replaced, or if the patient could afford it, replaced by ivory, gold, or silver teeth held precariously in place with tightly coiled springs or silk thread. For those needing a full set of prosthetics (as in the case of the first American President George Washington) false teeth were sourced from corpses (both human and animal)
  9. Colgate was the first company to mass produce both toothpaste and toothbrushes, starting in 1873.
  10. The first Australian town to introduce fluoridation was Beaconsfield, Tasmania in 1953. In Victoria, the first fluoridation occurred in Bacchus Marsh in 1962 but the introduction of fluoride into Melbourne’s water supply happened almost a decade later, in 1977.


Eden Rise Dental is a Berwick based dentist offering quality cosmetic and general dentistry services to patients of all ages. Get in touch with us today by calling 9702 6111.