A History of Orthodontics: Straight Teeth Never Go Out of Style
The Journey From Sheep Skin to Clear Aligners
Orthodontics might seem like a modern dental revelation, but perfecting the alignment of smiles has been happening since Ancient Egypt. After thousands of years, orthodontics has gradually transformed into the complex branch of dentistry it is today.
Malocclusion (misaligned teeth) has affected humans’ ability to chew and speak for as long as we’ve had teeth. For this reason, it’s not surprising that the history of orthodontics begins thousands of years ago. What is surprising is what orthodontic treatments have evolved into.
For example, Dr. Shawn Kim in Hyde Park, MA features the latest orthodontic treatments, including Invisalign® — the fastest way to straighten your smile.
Orthodontics in the Ancient World
In Egypt, archeologists have uncovered mummies with crude metal bands wrapped around their teeth, which they believe were used to create pressure and shift their smile into the correct position. However, without proper documentation, there’s no way to tell if these preparations were performed during the life of the patient or after death. One thing we know for sure is that the Egyptians valued straight teeth.
After the Egyptians, the first written mention of crowded, misaligned, or imperfect teeth came from the Greeks. Around 400-300 B.C., Hippocrates, known by some as the founder of medicine, and Aristotle discussed different ways to straighten teeth.
A few hundred years later, a Roman writer by the name of Celsus was the first person to record the treatment of an irregular tooth. His transcription referenced using your finger to push children’s teeth into their correct position following the loss of their baby teeth.
Within the same century, Pliny the Elder — a Roman author, natural philosopher, and army commander — encouraged the first mechanical treatment of a patient. He suggested filing elongated teeth to bring them into correct alignment. This practice carried over into the 1800s.
Middle Ages to the 18th Century
During the Middle Ages, orthodontic progress disappeared. Dentistry and all sciences for that matter were put on hold as the world was confronted by the Black Death, the Crusaders, and discovering the new world. It wasn’t until the 1700s that we would see recorded advancements in dentistry again.
At the dawn of the 18th century, France was leading the world in the field of dentistry. Most of the country’s success could be attributed to a single man: Pierre Fauchard — known by many as the Father of Orthodontia. While he wasn’t the inventor, he was the first to record and describe how to use a bandeau.
A bandeau is a horseshoe-shaped piece of metal that’s tied to the teeth and tightened. This device was used to reposition crowded or misaligned teeth, and even today, the principles are used to straighten smiles. During this time, most orthodontic treatments were focused on the alignment of the teeth in the upper jaw.
In 1757, Fauchard’s successor, Etienne Bourdet, made alterations to the bandeau and was the first person to suggest removing premolars to reduce crowding. He was also the first person to attempt lingual orthodontics, which focuses on straightening smiles from the inner side of the teeth.
Closing out the 18th century, other attempts were made to fix the issue of overcrowding. For example, Christophe-François Delabarre inserted swelling threads or wooden wedges between spaces. Modern dentistry is much more humane. You can receive high-quality dental care and painless extractions from Dr. Bram in St. Charles, IL.
The 19th Century: European and American Pioneers
Over the next hundred years, significant jumps were made in orthodontic treatment. Dentistry was viewed as science which we can learn without physically experiencing (empiricism), and records were composed which would begin to define terms and techniques that we still use today.
In Europe, Joachim Lefoulon was recognized for coining the term orthodontoise, a French word which oddly translates to orthodontia. He was also the first person to combine a labial arch and a lingual arch to create the first interpretation of a modern aligner, although it was permanently placed in the mouth. Following Lefoulon, Friedrich Christoph Kneisel — the Prince of Prussia’s personal dentist — was the first person to use plaster molding to make a model of malocclusion. The same year, he created the first removable orthodontic appliance.
Around the same time, American orthodontics was taking off as well. In 1834, the original American dental association was founded in New York City. This society of surgeons led to such discoveries as the electric drill and the medical usage of anesthesia. While not many Americans created new techniques or equipment to battle malocclusion, they invested heavily in educating doctors about the information they already understood.
In 1839, the first dental journal, the American Journal of Dental Sciences (AJDS), was created. In the same decade, two men founded the first dental school in Baltimore at the University of Maryland: Chapin A. Harris, who edited the AJDS, and Horace H. Hayden. It was here where the first lectures on the irregularities of teeth were presented.
Finally, E. G. Tucker was the first American to use rubber bands — more so thin rubber tubing — to correct smiles, truing teeth into their proper position.
These days, our understanding of malocclusion and teeth irregularities is supported by advanced equipment and superior techniques. While there are multiple ways to straighten smiles, such as traditional braces with metal brackets and wires or removable metal retainers that patients only need to wear while they sleep, the results of these treatments surmount the challenges of the past.
Modern dentists like Dr. Owoc in White Oak, PA have the tools and education necessary to realign teeth in as little as six months. The latest and greatest form of orthodontic treatment, supported with over 20 years of research and development, is Invisalign.
The way it works is your dentist will take impressions of your smile and Invisalign will create multiple clear aligners that are custom-fitted to your smile, gradually shifting your teeth into proper position. Invisalign aligners are safe, comfortable, and nearly invisible.
Over the years, orthodontics has evolved from animal intestine ligatures and crude metal bindings to clear, comfortable, and quick aligners. However, people’s need for straight teeth has never wavered, and it’s likely it won’t change anytime soon.