dentistry | Definition, History, & Fields

Early dentistry

Dentistry, in some form, has been practiced since ancient times. For example, Egyptian skulls dating from 2900 to 2750 bce contain evidence of small holes in the jaw in the vicinity of a tooth’s roots. Such holes are believed to have been drilled to drain abscesses. In addition, accounts of dental treatment appear in Egyptian scrolls dating from 1500 bce. It is thought that the Egyptians practiced oral surgery perhaps as early as 2500 bce, although evidence for this is minimal. An early attempt at tooth replacement dates to Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) around 600 bce, where missing teeth were replaced with animal teeth and were bound into place with cord.

True restorative dentistry began with the Etruscans, who lived in the area of what is today central and northern Italy. Numerous dental bridges and partial dentures of gold have been found in Etruscan tombs, which date to about 500 bce. The Romans, who conquered the Etruscans, adopted Etruscan culture, and dentistry became a regular part of Roman medical practice. The Greeks also practiced some form of oral medicine, including tooth extractions, from the time of Hippocrates, around 400 bce.

In the Eastern world, dentistry had a totally different history. There is evidence that the early Chinese practiced some restorative dentistry as early as the year 200 bce, using silver amalgam as fillings. Oral medicine was part of the regular medical practice in other early Asian civilizations, such as those in India and Japan.

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Because of the proscription in the Qurʾan, the sacred scripture of Islam, against mutilating the body, surgery was not practiced in Islamic countries. Instead, reliance was placed upon healing through the use of herbs and medicines; preventive dentistry through strict adherence to oral hygiene became paramount. The writings of early Arabic physicians, such as Avicenna and Abū al-Qāsim, show that scaling and cleaning of teeth were practiced. Extractions were rare and were performed only when a tooth had been loosened.

Development of dentistry in Europe

With the demise of the western Roman Empire about the year 475 ce, medicine in Europe declined into a torpor that would last for almost a thousand years. About the only places where medicine or surgery was practiced were monasteries, and monks were aided in their surgical ministrations by the local barbers, who went to the monasteries to cut the monks’ hair and shave the monks’ beards. In 1163 a church council at Tours, France, ordered that henceforth no monks or priests were to practice any surgery, since it was felt that the shedding of blood was incompatible with the holy office of the clergy. Thus, the only people who had any rudimentary knowledge of surgery were the barbers, and they stepped into the breach, calling themselves barber-surgeons. They practiced simple dentistry, including extractions and cleaning of teeth. In the 1600s a number of barber-surgeons began restricting their

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