History of Dentistry – Part 5 – 20th Century until Now

Trench Mouth was not just a post-hardcore band from Chicago, but also a severe form of gingivitis that many soldiers used to develop.  While certainly disastrous and painful for its victims, it also led to some major oral hygiene changes following World War I.  During the Civil War, there had been different rules and regulations about military tooth care (and don’t forget Waterloo teeth).  In fact, for the military to accept a person, they needed only have three opposing teeth in the upper and lower jaw; this would enable the soldier the ability to open a gunpowder cartridge.  Thankfully there are higher standards now!  During World War II, oral hygiene had improved significantly, and those soldiers brought those new habits back to their loved ones.


More Modern Comforts

The 1900’s also brought more modern comforts to dentistry, including Procaine, the first local anesthetic. It was introduced by Alfred Einhorn and later marketed as Novocain. During this time pneumatic pedal operated drills were also beginning to be replaced by high speed electric hand pieces.


Dental Hygienists are Born

In 1913, Alfred C. Fones opened the Fones Clinic for Dental Hygienists in Connecticut.  The first class included 27 women who were then employed to clean children’s teeth.  The result was a huge reduction in caries amongst these children which inspired a dental hygienist movement.  Dr. Fones referred to these women as “dental hygienists,” thus earning the title Father of Dental Hygiene. (Image: First class of 27 dental hygienists graduate in November and begin to work in public schools.)


Other advances in women’s work also included Juliette Southard and her colleagues founding the American Dental Assistants Association.  Dental offices began sporting “Lady in Attendance” signs where women were working.  These women not only took care of bookkeeping and receptionist duties, but also assisted chair-side and cleaned instruments.


The Beginning of Fluoride in the Water

A Colorado dentist, Frederick McKay, thought that the brown stains on his patients’ teeth were probably due to the water supply.  Upon doing research, he found that the water they were drinking was high in fluoride.  He verified that this was associated with low dental caries in addition to the staining.  In the 1940’s, H. Trendley Dean actually figured out what a good quantity of fluoride in the water would be, which would be aid in lower dental caries and not cause staining.


Everyday Hygiene

Toothbrushes finally started coming into their own as the industrial wartime boon lead to what we know as oral hygiene and dentistry today. In 1938, DuPont put out the first toothbrush with nylon bristles.

Wisdom Tooth brushes (started by William Addis) began using synthetic materials during the 1940’s. And after the war, when the standard of living slowly started to increase and there was more disposable income, oral hygiene’s standards began to really permeate everyday life.   Crest marketed its fluoride toothpaste in 1955, and dentists finally focused more and more on preventative measures and not just corrective.  This would lead to the  semi-annual checkups we know today.





The 1960’s

The 1960’s were all about hands.  Cordless as well as electric toothbrushes came to the USA and there were ultrasonic scalers that came about.  In addition, the idea that four hands are better than two became a new highlight of dentistry.  This also increased productivity and shortened a patient’s time in the chair. Lastly, disposable latex gloves hit the market in 1964 and were a big hit.


Cosmetic Dentistry

Many advances were made in the 1990’s in cosmetic dentistry.  Home whitening systems, veneers, and smile enhancing gum treatments came about.  Dental implants became smaller and stronger, and lastly light cured resins started to become the preferred filling method as they had become stronger and stronger.


In Conclusion . . .

From tooth worms and bloodletting, dental keys to dentures, dentistry has emerged from the darkest and most painful of ages to a cushy reclinable chair with painkillers.  So, before you think about the dentist with dread, remember to whip out your toothbrush (be thankful we have them), brush with your toothpaste (and not ground up concoctions with pepper), and smile.  Pearly whites, you know you got ‘em.  Now it’s time to flaunt them.


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