/History of Dentistry: Between Pain Control and Innovation

History of Dentistry: Between Pain Control and Innovation

And what if the oldest profession in the world was the dentist? After all, it is logical to think that human beings have always suffered from caries and generally toothache. Handge and Nawathe (2015) report that “caries indices have been detected on skulls dating back 25,000 years and that archaeologists have evidence of the appearance of the first fillings on dentures of people having lived 8,000 BC. AD “, clear signs of a desire to heal. In this post, we offer you a trip back in time, from the first attempts to relieve dental pain to important innovations, both in terms of prevention and care.

A story made of pain until not so long ago

If of course , the visit to the dentist is hardly synonymous with the worst time of the year, the treatment of pathologies affecting the teeth has long been associated with the lexical field of pain, or even extreme pain. The word “treatment” is not really relevant when one is interested in the techniques used at certain times.

In an excellent BBC documentary (see below), Professor Joanna Bourke mentions that “in a time of perfect smiles and painless medical procedures, we overcame what dentistry was all about. and dental care something scary, how come the dentist’s chair always evokes as much fear and horror? “

It seems that the dark history of dentistry is still present in our collective unconscious. Just look at this story to understand how much we live in a privileged era when it comes to caring for our teeth and even taking care of them preventively.

For example, let’s start with pain management. It was only in 1905, thanks to the German chemist Alfred Einhorn, that the first local anesthesia appeared under the name procaine . Later marketed as Novocaine, this compound was used for nearly 60 years before being replaced by a class of more effective anesthetics with far fewer side effects. Thus, the so-called ” curarizing  ” substances  have replaced the old techniques of anesthesia. These compounds act like curare, a poison that causes motor nerve paralysis, which has been used for some time by some Aboriginal hunters.

et’s take a step back in the history of anesthetics used in dentistry. In 1844, Horace Wells discovered that nitrous oxide (chemical formula N 2 O) has anesthetic properties. This gas was known long before that date for its euphoric properties (hence its nickname laughing gas), but it had never been used to create insensitivity to pain. Wells did not have a good command of the inhalation technique, so his public demonstrations were failures. Nitrous oxide was forgotten for a time. Practically in the wake of the discovery of the anesthetic effects of nitrous oxide, dentist William Mortonwas the first in 1846 to publicly demonstrate the anesthetic effect of the ether. A few years later, another substance made its appearance: chloroform . This other technique of inhalation anesthesia, however, was poorly controlled since it could cause the death of the patient! The middle of the 19 th century was thus a turning point in the fight against pain, especially in the field of dentistry . And before these discoveries? Before these discoveries, the “d” of teething rhymed systematically with that of pain when one had to open his mouth wide …

We will go into the thick of it so to say … It is sufficient to be interested in tools for extracting teeth to the 17 th and 18 th centuries to consider lucky or fortunate not to have lived this time with a teething problem. For example, Garengeot’s famous key (also called “Brother Key”) was used for the extraction of molars, the word extraction must be relativized, since this practice was mostly the result of breaking the tooth or crown of it, even the bones of the jaw on which rested the end of the instrument .

Let’s take a step back in time, in the Middle Ages and the “barber surgeons”. Yes, you read correctly. In the late 12 th and early 13 th century, the church prohibited the clergy and doctors to perform surgery. This decision will have the effect of leaving interventions such as tearing teeth barbers who, at the time, practice bleeding (in addition to shave, it goes without saying …). They then become ”  barber surgeons  “. It must be understood that they did not receive training in medicine and that many charlatans proclaimed themselves to be pulling teeth. If one were to write the black book of dentistry, that time would surely be entitled to an entire chapter.

As you will understand, much of the history of dentistry is synonymous with pain, even extreme pain or death. However, it is of course also made of innovations and major progress.

Prevention, innovations and development

Let’s talk about prevention first, with the inevitable toothbrush. Know that this indispensable object comes originally from the Middle Kingdom. It was during the Tang Dynasty (619-907) that the idea of ​​using an instrument for brushing teeth emerged. The brush was made of a bone or bamboo handle with hard pig hair from the cold regions of China. Before the invention of the toothbrush, we know that since ancient times, humans have tried to maintain oral hygiene by chewing sticks of Siwak , which is the root of the shrub Salvadora persica . It was not until the 18 thcentury and a certain William Addis for the toothbrush to be used massively in Europe and slightly later in North America. Toothbrushes made of synthetic material were invented in 1935. In August 2015, the CBC published a radio chronicle on the history of the toothbrush.

Who says brushing teeth, said toothpaste or toothpaste. The first attempts to develop substances capable of removing food residues and cleaning teeth were sometimes failures, sometimes half-failures. For example, it is known that the Egyptians (4000 BC) concocted a mixture of salt, mint, pepper and dried iris flowers . According to some experts, this mixture was more effective than those used a hundred years ago, but created strong bleeding gums. The first fluoride toothpastes appeared in 1914 , but it was not until the late 1950s that they became the norm.

One of the most significant inventions of dentistry is still seen today as a revolution. This is the first fully adjustable dental chair, invented by dentist James Beall Morrison in 1867. In addition to the adjustable features, it allowed practitioners to sit while they treated their patients. In addition, it included a foot operated cutter, allowing dentists to perform repairs and care like never before (Ring & Hurley, 2000).

In the late 19 th century, the ability to produce electricity even brought more innovations in the field of dental care. In fact, the first dentist’selectric cutter appeared in 1875 thanks to the invention of the American dentist George Green, in Michigan. Current models operate with compressed air, allowing the pneumatic motors to run at 800,000 rpm against about 15 rpm for the first pedal dentist burs.

If you are interested in the history of dentistry, we recommend visiting the Eudore-Dubeau Museum at the Université de Montréal . You will be able to see there many old objects, witnesses of the practice of the dentistry in Quebec. Online, the Canadian Dental Association has created a special page on the history of this profession in Canada from 1902 to the present day. As for the American Dental Association in the United States, it has a very complete page on the history of dentistry , dating back to 5000 BC.

The history of dentistry is full of brilliant inventions and innovations that have often broken with established practices. Going to the dentist once meant extreme pain and was sometimes synonymous with death, whereas it is practically a formality these days. We forget how much we owe this comfort to dentists who have sought to innovate and spare our nerves. In 2016, it is no longer justified to have a tooth against your dentist …