You might think that dentistry is a more modern invention, but nothing is further from the truth. Dentistry has been around a long, long time. In fact, dentistry has been around since the Stone Age.
Earliest Dental Work
Even back in the Neolithic period people were using equipment to work on teeth. In one Pakistani grave site, nine adults who lived between 7000 and 9000 BC were found with drilled molars. At another site in Pakistan called Mehgarh show people who had cavities who had their teeth drilled using a flint dentist drill. These drills were possible the same as those used by bead workers who drilled holes in their beads found in the same area.
At the same time, toothbrushes were no doubt popular, even though we don’t have a record of them until about 3000 BC. The first toothbrushes were actually chew sticks. These sticks or twigs had a frayed end on one side to brush the teeth and a sharp toothpick like end on the other to use as a toothpick. While sticks were used so were feathers, porcupine quills, or animal bones. The first chew sticks were found in Babylon and Egypt dated 3500 BC and 3000 BC, respectively. The first bristle toothbrush was a Chinese invention that dated somewhere around 619 to 907 AD. It was made of hog bristles and looked much like today’s toothbrushes.
Just as people used toothbrushes, so people also tried to use toothpaste. Egyptians made a type of toothpaste using myrrh, powdered burnt ox hoof ashes, pumice, and powdered burnt eggshells. Other toothpaste throughout history included ground or burnt eggshells, powdered fruit, honey, dried flowers, talc, mice, urine, lizard livers, and rabbit heads. No information is available how effective these ingredients were.
The earliest text we have about cavities is a Sumerian text written somewhere around 5000 BC that states “tooth worms” are the cause of tooth decay. This was a popular thought even in India, Egypt, China, and Japan. The Greek author, Homer, even mentions them, and as late as the 1300s, a surgeon by the name of Guy de Chauliac beleived that tooth worms caused cavities.
First Known Dentist and Treatments
The first dentist’s name that we know of is an Egyptian dentist named Hesy-Re who died somewhere around 2600 BC. He was considered a great surgeon and dentist.
The first dentist “book” — a papyrus that gives us the treatments of dental ailments — is dated from around 1700 to 1550 BC. This papyrus may have much older cures that were passed along.
Hippocrates and Aristotle
Both Hippocrates and Aristotle made inroads into dentistry through observation and treatment. They treated cavities and gum disease. They performed dental extractions. They even use wire to fix broken jaws and hold loose teeth in place.
Romans and Etruscans
In 100 BC, the Roman doctor Celsus writes his work on dentistry which includes toothache remedies, teething pain remedies, oral hygiene, treating jaw fractures and loose teeth.
By 166 to 201 AD, the Etruscans were installing gold crowns and permanent bridges.