Dentistry Through the Ages

Early hunter gatherer humans wouldn’t have had much use for the dentist. Their diet and sporadic access to food meant that very few people developed cavities. Paleopathologists estimate at most 14% of hunter gatherer remains showed evidence of cavities, with many showing no evidence at all.  

This all changed with the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago. The new human diet which included an abundance of grains and carbohydrates made the mouth a haven for bacteria which destroy tooth enamel. It goes without saying that there were some pretty horrendous smiles going around back then.

With this came the need for ancient humans to devise ways to fix their tooth aches and ailments. This article will go through some of the interesting and at times gruesome ancient inventions:

Ancient root canal bow drill

 Evidence recovered from the Indus Valley Civilisation has suggested that the early humans cured tooth ailments using a bow drill. A simple bow and string which looped around the drill piece allowed the ancient dentist to rapidly spin the drill into the patient’s teeth. As there was no modern anesthetic to speak of, you just had to grit your teeth and bear it. 

Evidence recovered from the Indus Valley Civilisation has suggested that the early humans cured tooth ailments using a bow drill. A simple bow and string which looped around the drill piece allowed the ancient dentist to rapidly spin the drill into the patient’s teeth. As there was no modern anesthetic to speak of, you just had to grit your teeth and bear it.

Ancient Fillings

Archeologist in Slovenia found some early examples of tooth filling techniques. The fillings weren’t made from an amalgam of metals like modern fillings, instead they used beeswax to fill holes in teeth. So, if you wanted to fix your teeth back then, your best bet was to mind your own beeswax.    

The Clockwork Drill

This instrument (designed in the 1860s) was a tooth drill which worked by winding it up beforehand. That’s right, just like one of those toy cars. Except this time, I don’t think many people were having fun. The cumbersome design meant that these old timey dentists had to use two hands. Thank go we’ve come a long way.

17th Century Forceps

This is basically a fancy term for metal pliers. These were used for extracting teeth. No anesthetic back then. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it, buddy.

Barber Dentists

American way of life: old illustration of a barber shop. Created by Job, published on L’Illustration, Journal Universel, Paris, 1857

A strange thing about the history of dentistry you might not know is that barbers (the guys who cut your hair) would also perform small surgeries and dentistry on their “patients”. “Short back and sides, please. Oh, and can you pull out this molar that’s been giving me trouble?”

Conclusion

If none of these sound like a good idea, you can count your lucky stars that you live in the 21st with modern anesthetic and instruments. Going to the dentist now is very safe, hygienic and best of all, PAIN FREE!

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