Friday, January 27, 2012

Fun Friday Facts #26: Dentistry Edition

As some of you will know, one of my New Year's Resolutions this year was to go to the dentist. I have a terror of the dentist (masked man, drills etc.), so I'd been putting it off for a number of years. Now I've finally been to the dentist and discovered I need a lot of dental work, but at least I'm getting the opportunity to finally get over my fear of the dentist.

In the spirit of having completed my final root canal, and in (psychological) preparation for the many, many fillings, let us consider dentistry in this week's Fun Friday Facts.

And let us give thanks for modern anesthetics.

1) Researchers from the University of Poitiers have discovered evidence that the practice of dentistry dates back 9,000 years. These early dentists lived in the Indus Valley Civilization in modern day Pakistan. They used flint-tipped drills to remove areas of decay from teeth. It's believed that the earliest dentists were bead artisans, who would have been skilled in the use of these small, sharp drills.

The eleven Neolithic teeth, discovered in 2006, did not appear to have fillings, but the technique appears to have been effective anyway. Signs of wear around the edges of the holes suggest that the owners of the teeth were alive at the time of the procedure, and that they continued to use the teeth afterward.

2) The first known dentist was an Egyptian called Hesi-Re, who lived about 5,000 years ago. The inscriptions on his tomb indentify him as “the greatest of those who deal with teeth.” Most ancient Egyptians weren't prone to cavities, due to the low levels of sugar in their diet, although members of the upper classes were vulnerable to and often died from tooth decay. Ancient Egyptians ate a lot of sand mixed in with their food (it gets everywhere), which caused excessive wear and tear on the teeth, and often led to early tooth loss. The ancient Egyptians used prosthetic teeth, which were fastened into the mouth with gold wire, and filled cavities with a mixture of resin and chrysocolla, a type of copper ore.

Pretty. ~ Rob Lavinsky

3) In spite of all their orthodontic technology, the ancient Egyptians didn't practice tooth extraction. They believed that it wasn't necessary, a belief that probably caused many unnecessary deaths. The first dental extraction tool appeared in the 1300s, in France, the work of Guy de Chauliac. It was pair of forceps called the “dental pelican” because its business end somewhat resembled the beak of a pelican, if you squinted just right.

4) Later, in the 1700s, the dental key appeared.

Actually, I think that one in the middle left is a dental pelican.

The dental key had a set of claws on the end of its shaft. In order to pull a tooth, the erstwhile dentist (barber) inserted the shaft into the mouth and then tightened the claws around the tooth in question. Rotating the dental key was supposed to loosen and remove the tooth, but it usually just broke the tooth, the teeth around it, and sometimes the jawbone.

Let's give thanks for anesthetic again.

5) Real dentists began to appear in the 1700s, but they were expensive, because some things never change. Most people were stuck with the local blacksmith, who could do little more than pull troublesome teeth, while of course simultaneously breaking your jaw and probably ushering in your premature death from infection. False teeth, made from ivory, or, in some cases, human teeth stolen from dead bodies, were a popular cause of oral hauntings. George Washington's teeth were not wooden, but were made of lead, gold, ivory, animal and human teeth.

This picture is complete bullsh*t.

6) Porcelain dentures appeared in 1820. London goldsmith Claudius Ash mounted the first sets of porcelain teeth in gold plates. In the 1850s, vulcanized rubber replaced the gold plates, making dentures affordable and mass-producible for the first time. Acrylic resin and plastic dentures appeared in the 20th century.

7) Dental and surgical anesthetics appeared in the 1840s.


This, combined with the institution of dental schools and government regulations for orthodontic practitioners, dentistry became safer and less frightening, although, you know, still pretty frightening.

It must be an ancestral memory.


  1. I was just thinking my teeth need to be cleaned. Now I'm thinking I'll wait.

  2. It's okay, Jaipi, it's perfectly safe these days. Aren't you grateful for modern dentistry?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Yeah! What a great blog you have published. I like it and i will share it to others.

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  5. eeeek......I had a dental implant last fall after having a huge cracked molar dug out last spring. I had deader bone injected into my jaw and then a surgeon drilled a hole in my jaw in the fall and stuck a titanium rod in there. Today I went to my regular dentist who took 4 (count 'em) 4 impressions. It hurts when they rock them out and the frame is all over your whole jaw. The stuff about blacksmiths breaking jaws reminded me of my ordeal today.

    1. That sounds horrifying but you know what, that dental implant will be in your head for the rest of your life. Silver linings.

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  10. Teeth are few of the major parts in our body. If there's something wrong with them you can't even do anything with your mouth, you can't even eat. john

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