Inquiring readers, Every once in a while a writer from another website contributes an article that is custom made for this blog. Jennifer Vishnevsky, a writer for TopDentists.com, writes about false teeth and dentistry in an era when anesthetics were not yet available.
The 18th Century was a major time for advances in dentistry. It is believed that the French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today. In 1723, Fauchard published “The Surgeon Dentist, a Treatise on Teeth.” His book was the first to describe a comprehensive system for caring and treating the teeth. Thus, he is considered the father of modern dentistry. Fauchard was responsible for many developments, including the introduction of dental fillings and the use of dental prosthesis.
In 1760, John Baker, the earliest medically-trained dentist to practice in America, emigrated from England and set up practice. In the same decade, Paul Revere placed advertisements in a Boston newspaper offering his services as a dentist.
In 1790, the first dental foot engine was built by John Greenwood, son of Isaac Greenwood and one of George Washington’s dentists. It was made from an adapted foot-powered spinning wheel. This was also the year that the first specialized dental chair was invented by Josiah Flagg, who made a wooden Windsor chair with a headrest attached.
Even those treated by the best dentists were in for an agonizing time. “A Treatise on the Deformities and Disorders of the Teeth and Gums” was written in 1770 by Thomas Berdmore, who was considered to be an outstanding dentist in England. “Pass gold wire from the neighbouring teeth on either side, in such a manner as to press upon what stands out of the line.” The alternative, Berdmore suggested, was to ‘break the teeth into order by means of a strong pair of crooked pliers.”
For those who could afford it, the European diet grew sweeter during the 18th Century as the use of sugar became more widespread. This exposure to sugar meant more instances of tooth decay. These dietary changes were a major factor in the development of dentures. Dentists began to experiment with ivory in order to create a better foundation for dentures. Due to advances in technology, dentists could also add gold springs and plates to the new dentures. False teeth were a novelty that was mostly unheard of in earlier centuries. Previously, problematic teeth were pulled but almost never replaced. Ivory dentures were popular in the 1700s, made from natural materials including walrus, elephant, or hippopotamus. For the wealthy, human teeth were high in demand as the preferred material for the creation of dentures. However, the teeth used in 18th Century dentures eventually rotted. There was a high demand for teeth that were deemed healthy, such as from criminals.
One of the most famous early denture wearers was the first U.S. President George Washington. Washington began losing his teeth in his 20s, probably due to a combination of frequent illness and treatment with a medication called calomel that damaged the enamel of the teeth. Contrary to popular belief, however, Washington’s dentures were not made of wood. Washington sported some of the highest quality false teeth of the time, consisting of a denture plate made of carved hippopotamus ivory into which human teeth (along with parts of both horse and donkey teeth) were fitted. He had several other pairs of dentures during his presidency, none of which included wood in their construction.
Full or even partial dentures were properly developed only during the course of the 18th Century. Dentists became better at making them fit, coming up with stronger adhesives to keep the teeth attached to them and designing them so as to prevent them from flying out of their patients’ mouths. By the late 18th century, there were yet more developments. Around 1774, Alexis Duchâteau crafted the first porcelain dentures. But these were prone to chip and also tended to appear too white to be convincing. Porcelain shaped teeth were placed onto gold plates. These were the first dentures that look similar to modern dentures. They were very white in color, but could be made in different shades.
Guest contributor Jennifer Vishnevsky is a writer for TopDentists.com, an Everyday Health website on dental health, as well as a freelancer for other lifestyle media sites.