Human have been interested in teeth for centuries. The quest for the perfect smile has led civilisation after civilisation to pursue various methods and treatments over the years. There is evidence of people writing about problems with teeth, as well as treatments for dental issues, that dates all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, the Egyptians and the Romans. So, while orthodontics might seem like a thoroughly modern branch of dentistry – and much of the technology is pretty advanced – it actually has its origins in the ancient world.
Crooked teeth are nothing new
Archeologists have uncovered problems with teeth that date back more than 50,000 years. Human remains showing crooked teeth have showed up on skeletons from just about every era. The same issues with chewing, speaking and smiling seem to have affected ancient civilisations just as much as they have us.
The orthodontist – Egyptian style
The earliest evidence of orthodontics also comes from those famous civilisations, although attempts at correcting problems were pretty basic when compared to the technology that we use today. Egyptian mummies, for example, have been found with metal bands around their teeth that look a lot like earlier versions of the braces that modern orthodontics use today. Archeologists have debated whether catgut was used to secure these bands and to provide enough pressure to correct bad tooth alignment. Etruscan skeletons have been found with gold bands around their teeth and there is lots of written advice on how to correct wonky teeth, from Ancient Greek writer Celsus – who recommended ‘pushing’ teeth to realign –, to Roman Pliny the Elder (23 to 79 A.D), who said teeth should be filed.
17th century orthodontist pioneers like Matthaeus Gottfried Purmann and Phillip Pfaff helped to drive forward the progress of orthodontics by developing ways to take impressions of teeth using wax or plaster of Paris. But it wasn’t until the 18th century that things really developed when Pierre Fauchard – the ‘Father of Dentistry’ – created a horseshoe shaped piece of equipment that fit around teeth to help realign them. At the start of the 20th century, Edward Hartley Angle began producing a much wider range of orthodontics accessories that were designed to make it easier to correct issues. Then in the 1970s, dental adhesives made wire braces more feasible and lingual braces also surfaced – those that run along the inside of the tooth’s surface.
So, it has been a long and fairly complex journey to get from the original metal and catgut braces to the modern innovations of today, such as Invisalign braces. However, the investment in time and research has clearly paid off, as modern orthodontics is more effective and pain free than ever before.