Remembering how our predecessors lived without modern comforts and luxuries can be a source of immense gratitude. No, we are not talking about how Gen Z’s wonder in horror about how we did portrait photography before the dawn of ring lights. Instead, we’d like to explore how those before us dealt with the health and aesthetics of human teeth and the evolution of braces.
Was the first dentist a source of consternation for prehistoric children? How were these children placated before the revolutionary invention of lollipops?
The old practices and norms of orthodontics can make anyone recoil. The first recorded case of local anesthesia being used in any procedure was in 1884, which means that for thousands of years, humans endured the dentist’s chair within the limits of their pain thresholds (ouch).
Basic procedures such as tooth removal were a great ordeal. Dental practitioners often relied on chains and additional people to restrain their patients while they yanked out rotting and decaying teeth. This practice is well-documented through the photo record, and brave readers can find some here.
What is truly fascinating is that there is evidence of civilizations such as the ancient Romans and Egyptians practicing techniques that look incredibly similar to modern orthodontics. Human remains from Antiquity were found with metal and small gold wire weaved through and around their teeth — resembling a form of dental braces!
To investigate the discovery and development of orthodontic treatments used today, we have provided you with the ultimate guide to the history of braces.
Table of Contents
HISTORY OF BRACES: A COMPREHENSIVE TIMELINE
The history of braces is not a linear journey. Unambiguous evidence shows that ancient humans used metal wires to create what looks like “ancient braces.” However, these dental techniques were not used for the same purposes as modern braces — to straighten teeth. Researchers speculate that for ancient humans, the process of creating holes in teeth and threading wire through these holes and around teeth was a part of burial ceremonies.
THE HISTORY OF BRACES STARTS IN THE ANTIQUITY
The ancient Egyptians were among the first civilizations to have to address oral health — they constantly dealt with sand in their mouth, and their diet consisted of hard bread. Both of these factors lead to decay and, eventually, tooth loss.
Nonetheless, dental practitioners in ancient Egypt seemed determined to ensure that people didn’t pass into the afterlife with crooked teeth. Archaeologists postulate that primitive forms of dental braces were installed after death. However, one wonders whether this is a projection of the fears of modern humans and an avoidance of the thought of straightening teeth without modern analgesics.
The ancient Romans and Greeks valued teeth so much that they were likely to endure the pain and discomfort associated with decaying and rotting teeth rather than have them extracted. In fact, the Roman Law of the Twelve Tables even contains a provision for fining a person who knocks out the tooth of another!
Across the Atlantic, the Mayans had an approach to teeth similar to that of modern society, recognizing the importance of prophylactic measures to prevent infection and discomfort. Mayan dentists even advocated using a saline solution after receiving dental care. Additionally, the Mayans dyed and bejeweled their teeth with precious stones.
THE RECOIL OF ORTHODONTICS DURING THE DARK AGES
While ancient civilizations are known to have practiced some elementary orthodontic treatments to straighten teeth, orthodontics essentially stalled during the Dark Ages.
Other forms of dental treatment, however, started to get a lot more bearable during this period. According to Michael Colvard, Professor of Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at the University of Illinois, dental patients from the Dark Ages started to try various forms of pain relief.
After encountering Arab medicine during the Crusades, Western medical practitioners learned about the potency of various plants in managing pain. Opium, marijuana, and tobacco were all on the table as analgesics during this period.
THE DAWN OF DENTAL BRACES: PIERRE FAUCHARD AND ETIENNE BOURDET
The French dentist Pierre Fauchard (1679-1761) was a pioneer who is considered the father of modern dentistry. Fauchard advised dentists to use metal or folded silk as a ligature wire to straighten teeth, a gigantic step towards modern orthodontic braces. In his book, “The Surgeon Dentist: Or, Treatise on Teeth,” Fauchard suggests soaking these wires in hot water before wrapping them around the teeth of the patient to prevent cold shocks. For stubborn cases where a wire will not suffice, he advocates using metal plates as a form of lingual braces.
Another French dentist, Etienne Bourdet (1722-1789), was greatly influenced by Fauchard’s works and made revolutionary contributions to the field of dentistry and orthodontics himself. He published a 650-page book on dentistry, building up Fauchard’s ideas of early braces and teeth straightening. Bourdet also observed that the removal of the first bicuspid teeth might be necessary to create room for other teeth.
THE RISE OF MODERN ORTHODONTICS UNTIL THE 20TH CENTURY
The vital French contributions to the development of modern orthodontics continued with Christophe-François Delabarre, who, in 1819, introduced wire cribs to be placed on teeth, an almost perfect resemblance to modern, traditional braces. Delabarre’s works are considered by many to be the first instance of modern orthodontics.
THE BIRTH OF MODERN BRACES IN THE 20TH CENTURY
The 20th century saw the widespread adoption and standardization of many practices that form the foundation of contemporary orthodontics. During the early part of the century, the U.S. Army equipped American World War I soldiers with aluminum dentures, eventually abandoned due to the metal’s heat-conducting abilities. However, by the 1940s, acrylic resin, the modern material of choice, was broadly favored.
Edward Angle, a pioneer of modern orthodontics and dentistry, owned 37 patents by the beginning of the 20th century for various orthodontic appliances. These tools were used by dentists and orthodontists alike to treat teeth and install braces.
Another factor that accelerated the adoption of braces was the stemming of tooth decay. Advances in microbiology allowed dental practitioners to understand the causes of decaying teeth and subsequently made treatment easier and, in turn, dental braces safer, increasingly viable, and more accessible.
THE ZENITH OF THE HISTORY OF BRACES: CLEAR ALIGNERS
In 1997, two MBA students at Stanford, Zia Chisti and Kelsey Wirth, founded Align Technology, the manufacturer of Invisalign. The entrepreneurs correctly assumed the clear aligners, a form of transparent braces, would be wildly popular for those looking to straighten their teeth subtly. The success of clear aligners cannot be understated, with annual sales of Invisalign reaching $1 billion in 2016.
The rest is history.
LEARN MORE ABOUT DENTAL BRACES AT LOUDOUN ORTHODONTICS!
Contact Loudoun Orthodontics if you are ready to learn more about braces and how they can help you achieve your best smile. Whether you want to learn more about the benefits of braces for your orthodontic treatment or have questions about the process, use our live chat or call (703) 858-0303 or send us a message through our contact us page to connect with our friendly staff today to book a free consultation! Our office, located at 19465 Deerfield Ave, Suite 304, Leesburg, VA 20176, proudly serves not just Loudoun County but also the Greater Washington DC area. So, if you’re residing in Purcellville, Broadlands, or Brambleton, and are looking for one of the best orthodontists in VA, don’t hesitate to visit our office! We also invite you to keep up with our blog to get answers to many of the frequently asked questions about maintaining sparkling oral health, as well as follow us on Facebook and Instagram to become a part of our smiling community!
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- “Pain and Suffering of Toothache in the Dark Ages of Dentistry.” Pain and Suffering of Toothache in the Dark Ages of Dentistry | UIC Today, today.uic.edu/shedding-light-on-dark-ages-dentistry/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2022.
- Thomsen, Michael. “What Did People Do to Their Teeth before Braces?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 July 2015, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/07/braces-dentures-history/397934/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2022.
- DiBacco, Thomas V. “The Origins of Orthodontics.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Sept. 1995, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1995/09/19/the-origins-of-orthodontics/3bf16abe-f5f1-4667-a143-54e5a5b77464/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2022.