Let’s be honest: we’d be surprised if many of you out there who are reading this post have ever given more than a thought to the history of orthodontia. Now, we might be wrong about that, especially considering the fact that you have made your way to this very blog. Still, our hunch is that the majority of our readers will have happened upon this blog more than seeking it out in some kind of academic crusade. 

That said, we’d venture to say that the reason that many of us haven’t given much thought to the history of orthodontics is because it seems like a relatively modern field of medicine. After all, when you picture Ancient Greece, you don’t really think of folks walking around with pre-modern braces, do you? What would they be made out of, anyway? 

Questions like that are exactly what we’ll be answering in today’s blog, A Brief History of Orthodontia. If you are interested in learning what the ancient Greeks and Romans used as appliances, and if you are interested in what happened between way-back-then and 2019, by all means, read on! This blog is for you!

Ancient Orthodontics

If you thought that the ancient Greeks were the first to experiment with facial esthetics, you’d be wrong. According to Norman Wahl, our earliest written evidence of attempts to correct protruding or crowded teeth comes from 3,000 years ago. 

Wahl described the earliest versions of what we now call orthodontia in his special article, Orthodontics in 3 millennia: “Long before braces, long before the word “orthodontics” was coined, it was known that teeth moved in response to pressure. Primitive (and surprisingly well-designed) orthodontic appliances have been found with Greek and Etruscan artifacts. Archaeologists have discovered Egyptian mummies with crude metal bands wrapped around individual teeth. It is speculated that catgut was used to close the gaps.”

Although the modern notion of braces wasn’t invented until the early 19th century, the desire for straight teeth dates back much further than that. Though the attempted methods varied from one culture to another, the desire was uniform; people wanted straight teeth! 

Perhaps most interesting is the Estrucan use of the appliance intended to benefit the wearer in the afterlife. Circa 1,000 BC, the pre-Greek culture of the Estrucans were the originators of the “bridge.” According to the American Association of Orthodontists (who are something of an authority on the matter), “Archaeologists discovered that part of the burial ritual included the placement of a device that was similar to a mouth guard into the deceased’s mouth. This was done to preserve the spacing and to prevent an inward collapse of the teeth, so the deceased looked good when they entered the afterlife. The bridges were made from pure gold excavated from the ancient site of Satricum in central Italy.” 

Interestingly enough, archeologists believe that the Estrucan bridges were exclusively worn by women, with the prevailing thought being that cosmetics and the prioritization of facial attractiveness were more prominent among the females of this culture. 

While we are talking about firsts, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention Pliny the Elder, who lived in the first century AD. Pliny is credited with developing the first mechanical treatment, as he filed elongated teeth for the purpose of bringing them back into their proper alignment. Amazingly, Pliny the Elder’s method was used until the 1800s!

The Middle Ages

If you were wondering why Pliny’s approach lasted close to two millenniums, we can’t blame you. While there is no doubting that Mr. (the) Elder’s method was brilliant given the knowledge and tools at his disposal, the most significant reason behind his approach’s staying power is that very little scientific progress of any kind was made during the middle ages. Is it safe to assume you’ve heard of the “Dark Ages”? We’ll say yes. 

If you’ve heard of the Dark Ages, you’ve probably also got some level of familiarity with the enlightenment and renaissance. After the 1500s, rationalism prevailed, giving rise to the rebirth of science. In turn, this begat significant progress in the field of dentistry and oral health. Although not much was written about said progress during this period, students of dentistry began to attend university as early as the late 1500s. 

The 17th & 18th Centuries

France proved to be the scientific hub of early dentistry. Matthaeus Gottfried Purmann is said to be the first to use wax to take impressions. According to Jenny Green in her article for Colgate, “Pierre Fauchard, born in 1728, is considered the Father of Dentistry, having invented an appliance called bandeau. This horseshoe-shaped strip of metal contained regularly spaced holes that fit around the teeth to correct their alignment. Fauchard would also operate on patients with a set of forceps called a pelican, forcibly realigning teeth and tying them to the neighboring teeth to hold them in place while they healed.

After Fachard came Christophe-Francois Delabarre, who separated overcrowded teeth by means of implementing wedges of wood or swelling threads between his patient’s teeth. 

U.S. Contributions

While the majority of progress made in 18th-century France could best be described as tangential to orthodontics, the United States started to truly advance orthodontia in the 19th century. In 1822, J.S. Gunnell developed the occipital anchorage, a kind of headgear that attaches to the jaw from the outside of the mouth in order to apply specific (yet subtle) pressure on a patient’s teeth. After that, in 1840, Chapin A. Harris published “The Dental Art,” which is recognized as the first classic book on dentistry. The book describes in detail how to perform practices like applying gold caps to molars, how to solder knobs on bands to rotate teeth, and other developments in the field. Finally, in 1846, E.G. Tucker became the very first American dentist to have used rubber in an orthodontic appliance!

Visit Our Augusta Orthodontist Soon

Well, we might not have covered the comprehensive history of orthodontics in one blog post, but we did our best to address as much of the timeline as we were able to! In the near future, perhaps we will take the opportunity to discuss the history of modern orthodontia, so keep an eye out for that!

For our part at Rogers & Andrews Orthodontics, we’ve been perfecting handmade smiles since 1973 at our Augusta orthodontics office. We are committed to making each patient’s orthodontic treatment a glowing success by combining our experience and state-of-the-art technology with our dedication to providing personalized, comfortable orthodontic services. We’ve treated well over 15,000 patients in Augusta and the surrounding region!

Reach out to us at Rogers & Andrews Orthodontics to schedule your appointment with us! We’d love to hear from you.