Dental History

Would you Brush your Teeth with Toast? Your Ancestors did.

March 22nd, 2017

Did you know that dental floss used to be made of silk thread? Or, that toothbrushes used to be made of bone and horse hair? Oral health care has a long and weird history that stretches back to ancient cultures and includes numerous ingredients and tools that have helped carve the path for modern dentistry. Today, we look at the origins of toothpaste and how it has evolved into the product we know today.

5000 – 3000 BC Ancient Egypt

As with many other tools, toothpaste originates in ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians (particularly the pharaohs and wealthy) valued cleanliness and oral health and began experimenting with the first iteration of toothpaste. Their version of toothpaste consisted of rock salt, dried iris flowers, pepper and mint crushed into a fine paste with a bit of water. Some mixtures even included the ashes of ox hooves and burnt egg shells! This mixture led to bleeding gums, but it was surprisingly effective at cleaning teeth, even when compared to what was used just 100 years ago.

Greece and Rome

Around the same time as the Egyptians, Greek and Roman leaders were using the Egyptian mixture, but began experimenting with their own toothpaste. They added more abrasives to their mixture to increase the cleaning power, the most popular of which were crushed bones and oyster shells. The Romans added charcoal to help freshen their breath.

Around 500 BC, ancient China and India used a similar mixture, but added more flavoring ingredients like ginseng, herbal mints and salts.

1700’s gets Toasty

The ancient power cultures had pretty much perfected their form of toothpaste, and it remained popular and used by many upper class people for a long time. And then, toast was introduced. Used toast was ground into a fine powder and used to scrub teeth. While there is no clear origin of using toast as toothpaste, it was a very affordable option for a lot of people.

1824 – Let’s add Some Bubbles

In 1824, a dentist named Dr. Peabody decided to add soap to the ground up toast mixture to enhance the cleaning power. A few decades passed, and then toothpaste makers began adding chalk to their mixtures to create the creamy consistency that we’re familiar with today.

1873 – Mass Production

Colgate began producing toothpaste on a wide scale in 1873, and distributed their toothpaste in jars. In 1892, Dr. Washington Sheffield put toothpaste in a collapsible tube, like the ones used today. That same year, Colgate began distributing toothpaste in tubes similar to the ones we see today.

1914 Welcomes Fluoride

In 1914, it was discovered that fluoride significantly decreased dental cavities.  That same year, it was added into toothpastes to achieve better cleaning results. Soap was eventually phased out in favor of fluoride and sodium lauryl sulphate in the 1940’s.

1987 Edible Toothpaste

To help keep astronauts’ (yes, astronauts) teeth clean while in space, NASA invented an edible toothpaste that could be swallowed after brushing. Edible toothpaste was then repurposed for young children to use, because it did not present a risk if it was ingested.

1989 Shines Brighter

In 1989, Rembrandt marketed the first whitening toothpaste that would “whiten and brighten your smile.” Other toothpaste producers quickly followed suit and now whitening toothpaste is one of the most popular types available.

Toothpaste Today

We’ve come a long way from crushed oysters and ginseng mixtures. Now, there are countless types of toothpastes that have a variety of acute end-goals, and still clean your teeth. Navigating the toothpaste market can be a bit difficult, but we’re here to help. Schedule an appointment in our office to discuss the type of toothpaste that will work best for your child, and what would work best for our entire family.

The Mystery of the Colorado Brown Stain and the History of Fluoride

March 2nd, 2017

The Center for Disease Control has called community water fluoridation one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century. This is due to its effectiveness, and low cost. In fact, the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, US Public Health Service, and World Health Organization all advocate for fluoridating community water supplies. But, we haven’t always reaped the oral-health benefits of fluoride. Actually, until recently, we haven’t even fully understood the full scope of fluoride. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that we began studying fluoride, and incorporating it into our health toolbox.

Colorado Brown Stain

In 1901, a young dental school graduate named Frederick McKay moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado to open a dental practice. Upon his arrival, he was astounded to observe that many of the locals suffered from brown stains on their teeth. Sometimes, these stains were so dark that it appeared as if their teeth were caked in dark chocolate. After observing this, McKay frantically searched for information about the disorder causing the stains.

Teeth mottling (dental fluorosis)

McKay invited a renowned dental researcher named Dr. G.V. Black to help him get to the root of the stain affecting those in Colorado Springs. In 1909, Black accepted the invitation and arrived in Colorado. For six years, the two worked together and found that nearly 90% of children native to Colorado Springs suffered from the stain. They gave the brown stain a more technical name (tooth mottling, which was later changed to fluorosis) and were surprised to discover that mottled teeth were highly resistant to tooth decay. While they couldn’t identify a cause for tooth mottling, they noted the anti-cavity effects of the stain and moved on.

A Trip across the Rockies

McKay was ever-vigilant in his quest to solve the brown stain issue. So much so, that in 1923 he went from Colorado Springs to Oakley, Idaho to investigate a recent uptick in tooth mottling in Oakley. The parents told McKay that the stains began appearing shortly after Oakley constructed a communal water pipeline to a warm spring five miles away. After examining and finding the water to be normal, McKay advised town leaders to abandon the pipeline and use a nearby spring as their water source. The town obliged, and within a few years the brown stains disappeared.

McKay still hadn’t found the exact cause, but he isolated the source of tooth mottling.

An Arkansas Aluminum Town

McKay then travelled to Bauxite, Arkansas, a town owned by an aluminum plant called the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). The residents of Bauxite were afflicted with mottled teeth, but nearby towns were not. McKay asked the town to conduct a study on the water, and returned to Colorado.

ALCOA’s chief chemist, H.V. Churchill, analyzed the water with more powerful tools than available to McKay when he was in Oakley. Several days after the study was conducted, Churchill found high levels of fluoride in the water at Bauxite. At first, he couldn’t believe it, and order a new sample. The second test showed the same results and compelled Churchill to write a 5 page letter to McKay.

The letter informed McKay of the fluoride findings, and Churchill urged him to test samples from Colorado Spring and Oakley for increased levels of fluoride. McKay obliged, and within months, he found the answer to the brown stain problem: increased levels of fluoride were in fact staining teeth.

National Institute of Health

After learning of McKay and Churchill’s findings, the National Institute of Health (NIH) decided to investigate water-borne fluoride, and the effects on teeth. Drs Trendley Dean and Elias Elvove first came up with a method to measure fluoride levels in water. Together, they developed a state-of-the-art method to measure fluoride levels in water with an accuracy of 0.1 parts per million (ppm). By the late 1930’s the NIH concluded that fluoride levels up to 1.0 ppm could not cause enamel fluorosis.

What about Cavity Protection?

Upon finding that miniscule amounts of fluoride would not stain teeth, the NIH went back to McKay’s writings where he observed the cavity resistance of those with the brown stain. Dean wondered whether adding fluoride to drinking water at physically and cosmetically safe levels would help fight tooth decay. This hypothesis, Dean told his colleagues, would need to be tested. In 1945, Grand Rapids Michigan voted to add fluoride to its drinking water. The 15 year study would be the first of its kind. After just 11 years, Dean announced that the cavity rate among children in Grand Rapids had dropped more than 60%. This was a major scientific breakthrough and helped revolutionize dental care.

Fluoride Today and in the Future

Today, fluoride is widely acknowledged as a way to prevent cavities. In the United States, community water fluoridation costs just over 1 dollar per person every year, which is a low price to pay for better oral health. Check online to see if your town uses a fluoridated water source. If not, we suggest buying fluoridated toothpaste to get your daily dose of cavity-preventing fluoride.

The History of Fixing Broken Teeth

January 11th, 2017

Dental crowns – or sometimes called dental caps – are prosthetic devices places over broken teeth to strengthen and improve their appearance. Crowns are used to prevent weakened teeth from fracturing, as teeth replacements, or to cover a root canal, dental implant or a weak tooth. Crowns help keep teeth functional, and prevent improper bite alignment from occurring. How – and when – did we start fixing broken or missing teeth?

Southeast Asia

The first known example of using dental crowns dates back 4,000 years in Southeast Asia, on Luzon, an island in the Philippines. The Philippine skeletons revealed basic golden caps and tooth gold tooth replacements. Scholars have found that modifying teeth with gold was popular among chiefs and the political ruling class of the period. The appearance of gold teeth was a symbol of wealth, power and status.

Etruscan Gold

Around 700 B.C., the Etruscans – an ancient Italian civilization which operated in what we know as Tuscany today – also employed the use of gold as dental crowns. Luxury and wealth were important to the Etruscans, and it’s evident in their teeth. Etruscan skeletons revealed the use of rudimentary dental crowns made out of gold and put on top of teeth. Researchers have also found Etruscan remains with artificial teeth held in place by wrapping them with gold wire, and banding them next to existing teeth. This is actually the first example of dental bridges! Because of their ingenuity and willingness to experiment, the Etruscans are credited with being the first cosmetic dentists.

Old Europe

Europeans began experimenting with modern dental techniques in the 1400’s. During that time, they carved dentures from bone or ivory, and replaced teeth with their creations. Around the 1700’s, human teeth were a popular replacement for missing or broken teeth because of their natural appearance and obvious function. However, they did not work well as replacement teeth because bodies would quickly reject the tooth and they would fall out. Around 1770, the first porcelain dentures were made, and by the 1800’s porcelain dentures were the standard for replacing teeth.

Porcelain Crowns Arrive

In 1903, Dr. Charles Land introduced the all-porcelain jacket crown – an invention he patented in 1889 that is the first modern rendition of the dental crown we know today. The porcelain jacket procedure consisted of taking a broken tooth and rebuilding it with a porcelain covering (the jacket) to make it appear new again. The porcelain jacket crown was very effective for the day, and widely used until the 1950’s, when a stronger solution – the porcelain-fused-to-metal crown – was introduced.

Fixing Broken Teeth Today

Today, fixing teeth is down to a near perfect science, and dental crowns can be made from porcelain, ceramic, gold alloys and base metal allows. If your child has a broken tooth, then visit our office immediately. A broken tooth is a serious dental problem that needs to be treated by a team of dental professionals.