8 Surprising Historical Facts That Will Make You Appreciate Your Dentist

In honor of National Dentist’s Day in March, we thought it would be fun to explore a little bit about the history of modern dentistry, and how the tools and methods have evolved to become what they are today. Most people take for granted the advanced technology that allows us to go to the dentist and receive dental care that prevents and treats diseases which would have been disastrous to people living only a couple hundred years ago.

For example, anesthesia was only introduced and began being used regularly in 1846. Take a moment and let that sink in. That means for thousands of years, patients suffered through primitive extractions, drilling, root canals, and more—with nothing more than a shot of whiskey or a tincture of opium (if they were lucky) to dull the pain. If that has you shook, think of the gamut of oral diseases and infections that plagued people living through the centuries and the purported ‘treatments’ they underwent which often only made things worse. Modern-day dentistry is extremely safe, immaculately sterile, and based on solid scientific methodology. But it hasn’t always been this way.

By Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, from Wikimedia Commons

Some remarkable facts about the history of dentistry you probably didn’t know:

  • In the early days of dentistry, tooth extractions were predominantly performed by barbers or blacksmiths. They used crude pliers to rip out the offending teeth with nothing more than whiskey to dull the pain.
  • In the late 19th century, before the importance of sterilization become well known, infections of the mouth were a serious problem that caused many unpleasant deaths.
  • Until 1959, the most common material used to fill and repair teeth was a mixture of metals with an alarmingly high concentration of toxic mercury called ‘amalgum’.
  • In the 18th century, it became extremely popular to pull teeth from the lower class and the dead and sell them to the wealthy so they could haphazardly fasten them into their own mouths using wire or other contraptions. This led diseases such as syphilis to spread like wildfire.
By Dentistxxx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
  • In the 19th century, dentures were made from real human teeth of questionable origin (see number 4) which were then fused to an ivory, wax, or metal tray. These contraptions were painful, smelly, often led to further infection, and were useless for chewing.
  • Before 1860, the drilling of teeth was performed using a small hand drill twisted between the fingers to achieve a whopping speed of 15rpm—a slow and painful experience without the use of anesthesia.
  • Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common to have absolutely no teeth at all. Either they rotted away from decay and eventually fell out on their own, or you took the preferred route and had all of your teeth extracted at the same time—saving you a lifetime of pain and infection.
  • In the early 19th century, complete removal of the teeth was a popular gift for 21st birthdays and newly married brides (we can’t imagine getting excited over something like this, but I guess those were different times).

Modern Day Dentistry

Looking back on how things used to be can give us a better appreciation for how modern-day dentists use science-backed methods and medical expertise to assess and treat dental conditions. We’ve come a long way since the days when the only remedy for a toothache was a trip to the local barber and a terrifying encounter with a pair of pliers.

Nowadays, dentists have to go through rigorous training including years of school and a masters degree program before they can begin seeing their own patients—and only the most competent and well-qualified individuals are allowed near your mouth. Dentists often dedicate their lives to learning the newest technology and tools to make sure you receive the most comfortable, comprehensive, and effective dental care possible—and many of them are extremely passionate about what they do.

So, forgive your dentist the next time they accidentally poke you in the gums or give you bubblegum fluoride instead of cherry (although bubblegum is the best flavor if you ask us)… maybe even give them a hug or a high-five if you happen to see them this National Dentist’s Day. For more information on National Dentist’s Day and creative ideas for making your dentist feel the love visit nationaldentistsday.com.

If you’re one of those people, there’s a good chance your hang-ups aren’t as prominent as you think, but that probably doesn’t make you any less self-conscious. It’s like a nasty pimple or blemish— once you know it’s there you just can’t stop thinking about it. This causes a lot of people to avoid smiling altogether or to cover their mouth out of embarrassment, and it’s something that can affect day-to- day life in a very real way. The most common insecurities? Dark or discolored teeth, broken or worn-down teeth, missing teeth, and crooked teeth. So, the question is—what can be done to fix a problematic smile?

Teeth Straightening

Depending on the skill/experience of your dentist and where you live, the means for getting your teeth in a row are more abundant than ever before. Clear trays fitted to the shape of your mouth have been around for almost 20 years now, so you don’t have to worry about metal in your mouth if you don’t want to— though the traditional wire and bracket route is still the most effective method for stubborn teeth, jaw misalignment, and over/under bites.

Does insurance cover teeth straightening? Often insurance will at least partially cover the cost of braces or at-home aligners. Payment plans are common to break down the outstanding balance. If you have a health flexible spending account (FSA), the money you pay towards an alignment won’t be taxed, so you can save some money there if you plan ahead. The side benefit is that it’s easier to bite and chew, and can reduce stress and tension in your jaw.

Teeth Whitening

This is one of the easiest and quickest ways to improve the appearance of your smile. For discolored teeth, a wide range of options exist from whitening toothpaste, to over the counter trays, to professional whitening performed by your dentist.

Does insurance cover whitening? Not usually. This type of treatment is almost always considered cosmetic only, but do look into supplementary dental plans that can be purchased in addition to your main insurance to offset the cost of whitening and other procedures.

Dental Veneers

This cosmetic procedure is essentially a makeover for your mouth. If your teeth are too small, have jagged edges, are lopsided, worn, or are discolored beyond whitening, veneers can give you an almost perfect-looking smile if done by an experienced dentist.

Does insurance cover veneers? When it comes to veneers, insurance coverage is sort of a gray area. Whether or not your insurance will help offset the cost depends on your situation, and if the procedure is deemed necessary or cosmetic only. Broken, worn down, ‘dead’ teeth, or teeth with extensive filling or root canal work are the most likely candidates for veneer coverage.

If the purpose of veneers is to create a more balanced smile or cover up staining you’re probably on your own. Talk to your dentist about payment plans before getting started—it’s a lot easier to pay a couple hundred dollars a month than to tackle a large amount upfront. Side benefit: provides a protective layer over the enamel of your own teeth—preventing acids and bacteria from exposing the sensitive inner layers that are susceptible to tooth decay.

Tooth Restoration and Implants

There is a range of tooth restoration options that can help fill the gaps in your smile. Dental bridges and dentures are less expensive but require more maintenance. A full tooth implant is a more permanent and natural looking solution, but tends to be more costly. Your dentist can help you decide which is the right fit for you.

Does insurance cover tooth replacement?
 As is the case with veneers, whether or not insurance will help lessen the cost of tooth replacement really depends on the reason why you need the procedure in the first place. If you were in a car accident or have lost a tooth as a result of some other medical emergency, the chances of insurance accepting your claim are much higher (in these cases medical, not dental insurance will be the ones to foot the bill). If not, there are always payment plans and FSAs to help make the cost more manageable.

The side benefit is that restoring gaps in your smile will not only keep your existing teeth where they should be, it can also protect your jawbone from deteriorating in the empty spaces.

Deciding on Dental Work

Now, we’re not saying if your teeth aren’t 100% straight and blindingly white, you NEED to have work done. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having small imperfections like gaps and a little crookedness; these are attributes that make you YOU, and add personality to your smile. On the flip side, if there’s something off about your smile that continues to bother you and affect the way you interact with others, there’s nothing wrong with making an informed decision about a procedure that can improve your quality of life.

Hilton Head Dental Office

Here at our dental offices in Hilton Head, we’ve seen the effect these procedures can have on people’s lives and hear from our patients all the time how freeing it can be to finally let go of their nagging anxiety and worries.

If you have a dental hang-up that’s preventing you from living your best life, it might be time to see if one of these cosmetic dentistry options is right for you. There are so many reasons in life to smile—you should never let insecurities get in the way of expressing your happiness at every opportunity!