The History of Teeth Whitening
Did you know that teeth whitening is reported to have been performed as long ago as 4000 years?
The Egyptians, along with recording the treatment of swelling gums, tooth abscesses and tooth pain, performed teeth whitening. Beauty was important to the Egyptians and white teeth, not only beautified, but represented wealth and nobility. The whitening formula, consisting of pumice, vinegar and ground oxen hooves, was applied with twigs.
The Romans cleaned their teeth and removed plaque with chewing sticks. They also used a brush to brush them with urine – the theory was that the ammonia in the urine would whiten the teeth.
12th century – practitioners recommended that teeth be rubbed with salt and sage to achieve whiteness.
In the 17th century, barbers used files to scrape the teeth and paint them with nitric acid. While this may have made teeth whiter, it led to more rapid dental decay.
In the 1800s, Europeans used bleach to whiten teeth, but it was found to be damaging. Fortunately, at the end of the century, hydrogen peroxide was discovered to be a viable whitening alternative.
In the 19th century, the benefits of hydrogen peroxide for teeth whitening and gum health were realized and became the preferred method of whitening. Its whitening capabilities were realized concurrent with dentists becoming more concerned with healing the gums from infection and disease, with the advent of braces and other orthodontic devices. The idea was to keep patients’ gums exposed to hydrogen peroxide as long as possible. In the early 1900s it was discovered that using a heated lamp with hydrogen peroxide could lighten teeth. To this day, most whitening formulas have some form of hydrogen peroxide.
In the 1960s a dentist discovered that an overnight soak in carbamide peroxide, using an orthodontic positioner, significantly whitened teeth. (Carbamide peroxide contains hydrogen peroxide at a 1:3 ration)
The idea of using carbamide peroxide as a tooth whitening agent really took off in the 80s. In 1989 a thick whitening gel, Opalescence carbamide peroxide (Ultradent Products) was patented and its technique is still used today. Around this time period dentists started offering whitening tray services and whitening strips, for use at home, soon became popular.
Today, all professional grade whitening techniques use hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide and there are several whitening options offered in dental offices today. Your dentist can help you decide which is the best option for you, basing your needs against the components of the two ingredients.
Dental Archeology and the History of Dentistry
Dental archeology and the history of dentistry are rich topics, more interesting than one would think. Through dental archeology, researchers have been able to determine dietary habits (hunting vs farming) and migration patterns of man, through the ages. Tooth wear analysis can help distinguish between early hunter-gatherers and later farmers, thus locating time and location. Even subtle dietary shifts through the ages, can be observed from small changes in teeth.
Dental practice history, equally as interesting, can be traced back as far back as 7000 years ago in the Indus Valley where there is evidence of the use of a bow drill to drill teeth. Research indicates that the first filling (made of bees wax) was constructed 6500 years ago in Slovenia.
The first written history of dentistry can be traced back to 5000 years ago, when teeth worms, were blamed for decay, in a Sumerian text. (This was disproved in the 1700s.)
Egyptian texts (Ebers Papyrus) discuss remedies for conditions such as gum swelling, abscesses and tooth pain. Archeologists have even discovered teeth wired together by gold, which could be an attempt to replace lost teeth (or perhaps to have someone look better in burial.)
The first documentation of dental surgery is from Greece, 12th Century BC and a lead instrument is mentioned in the writings.
Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dental maladies and treatment for decay and gum disease.
Dental writings and descriptions of treatment because more prolific after this point. Gold crowns were used by the Etruscans at the beginning of the 1st millennium by the Etruscans. Rhazes, an Arabian doctor, emphasized the need to try and cure teeth before extracting. Cavities were filled with mastic and alum and many herbs were suggested to treat periodontitis and its attendant pain.
A book written by Aulcasis in the 11th century is one of the first descriptive texts concerning dental instruments.
From the 13th to 15th centuries, Papal edicts prohibited monks from performing surgery, including tooth extraction. Barbers then took over teeth extraction, as one of the many surgical procedures they started performing.
In the 1530 the Little Medicinal Book for All Kinds of Diseases and Infirmities of the Teeth was published in Germany, as the first book devoted entirely to dentistry.
As Europe progressed intellectually during the 16th century, so did Dentistry and the writings and discoveries become more prolific throughout Europe during the next few centuries.
As people and ideas moved across the ocean to the Americas, so did dentistry.
The first forensic dentist in America is known to be Paul Revere. He advertised his dental prosthesis business in the Boston Gazette in 1770. Paul Revere had been trained by Dr. John Baker, an English dental surgeon to make and fit artificial teeth. He is known as a forensic dentist, because he identified the death of a friend of his, Dr. Warren, through identification of a dental bridge that he had made for him.
John Greenwood, famous for fitting George Washington’s dentures, invented the first dental foot engine in 1790. In the same year, the first dental chair was mad by prominent American dentist Josiah Flagg and in 1832 the first reclining dental chair was invented by James Snell.
In the 1830s amalgam fillings were introduced from France.
With all the advances being made, the need for a professional teaching institution became important and in 1840the world’s first dental school was founded- the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery and the DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) was established.
1871 the first commercially manufactured foot treadle dental engine was patented and put on the market by James Morrison and the same year George Green received a patent for the first self-contained electric dental engine – self-contained motor with a hand piece.
The X-ray was discovered in 1895 by German physicist Wilhem Roentgen and the first dental X-rays of a living person in the US were taken by Edmond Kells, a prominent New Orleans dentist. And now most offices use digital X-rays, which greatly reduce radiation.
Centuries of research and dedication have transformed dentistry into a highly sophisticated and effective science and this translates to better and easier treatment for you.
Next time you are feeling blue about visiting the dentist, try thinking about what your ancestors went through, to have healthy teeth. It’s not so bad, is it?