Though a trip to the dentist may not be our favorite activity, we all know it’s necessary. When we consider how far dental technology has advanced, it’s amazing to see the progress between past years and now. It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that doctors even began concerning themselves with the mouth to alleviate toothaches, and even longer before they took a preventative stance regarding oral care. Let’s take a look at where dentistry began and how far it has come.
Before the seventeenth century, it was rare to find anything resembling a toothbrush. As dental care wasn’t viewed as important, most people got by with scraping their teeth with sticks. Sometimes powdered fruit, talc, or dried flowers were rubbed onto the teeth as a type of toothpaste, though these mixtures oftentimes dissolved the enamel. Oral pain was possibly treated with vegetable plasters and rinses, as well as incantations.
The bristle toothbrush wasn’t introduced until the seventeenth century by Europeans. It wasn’t until 1766 that dentistry was even brought over to Colonial America, with George Washington being an early patient of prosthetic teeth. As for toothpaste, a product similar to what we know today was first produced in the 1800s from a mixture of soap and chalk. The first fluoride toothpaste wasn’t introduced until 1956 from Crest. Shortly afterward, the first electric toothbrush was introduced in 1960 in the U.S.
Floss originated in 1815 by a dentist who advised his patients to scrape between their teeth with silk thread. Nylon replaced silk in the 1940s, which was a great improvement in regards to breakage. Dental tape surfaced in the 1950s, with technology improving through the years to give us the waxed and unwaxed floss we know today, spongy and soft textures, flavors, floss holders, and string alternatives. Today, we even have power flossers, air flossers, and water flossers. These high-tech alternatives aren’t just for adults; kids can use a water flosser too!
For over one-hundred years, amalgam fillings have been used to treat cavities. Most people will recognize amalgam as the silver fillings. Amalgam is still used today and is known for its resilience and long lifespan.
However, a new filling material known as composite has become quite popular recently due to its enamel-colored nature. Composite was initially used in front teeth and for several years, it wasn’t considered strong enough for molars because of the extreme pressure from chewing. In the past couple of decades, though, the technology has improved to allow composite fillings in the back teeth as well. Composites can be used to fill any sized cavity, and unlike amalgam, composites will not discolor the tooth over the years.
Film x-rays have been used for years to capture images of teeth. As reliable as film has been, however, within the last decade or two, most dentists have transitioned to digital x-rays for even better results.
- Digital x-rays are processed immediately, whereas film takes time to develop.
- Digital x-rays reduce radiation exposure by 70%.
- The high-quality grayscale digital x-rays offer 256 shades of grey for a better depiction of cavities than film, which offers 16-25.
- Digital x-rays are archived on a computer for easy access and sharing with other providers.
- With digital x-rays, the pictures are bigger and can be brightened for contrast purposes.
Dental Drills and Lasers
The drill is the scariest aspect of a dental visit, but we definitely have it better today than patients from years ago. In past years, drills were excruciatingly slow, and it wasn’t until 1904 that Novacaine was discovered. Before Novacaine, doctors experimented with ether, nitrous oxide, wine, and even cocaine as means of sedating patients. It wasn’t until 1943 when Lidocaine was synthesized, which is still used today by most dentists. Thankfully today, drills precise, fast, and Lidocaine keeps teeth completely numb.
Quite recently, technology has created dental lasers for removing tooth decay. This laser, by emitting powerful beams of light, can both numb the tooth and cut through the decay for a fast, pain-free, needle-free, and drill-free experience.
Hand Tools vs Ultrasonic
It wasn’t until 1917 that the first dental hygienist in the world was licensed. Hand tools have been used for years by hygienists for “scaling” teeth, which is the removal of calculus or tartar. In recent years, a new scaling technology was invented, called the Ultrasonic. Typically, the Ultrasonic is used along with hand tools for the best cleaning results.
The Ultrasonic uses powerful vibrations to crush and remove calcified deposits. The vibrations disrupt bacterial cells and flush out pockets. The Ultrasonic is just as effective at removing plaque and tartar as hand tools, perhaps even more so, since the small tips can reach deeper, tighter areas that hand tools can’t. Less time is required than with hand tools alone and reduces bothersome scraping.
Technology of Today
Dental technology has come leaps and bounds through the years. From power toothbrushes, electric flossers, and lasers, to tooth-colored fillings, Ultrasonic cleanings, and computer-generated crowns, it’s obvious the marriage of technology and dentistry has brought us the best of both worlds.