History has a lot to teach us. While we take certain things for granted today in our relatively hygienic, fast-paced, well-educated, digital world, it wasn’t always this way. For example, while you’re probably quite familiar with a typical modern dental set-up and the sophisticated treatments highly qualified medical professionals like Dr. Craig Armstrong can now offer, the advent of this type of advanced dentistry was actually quite recent. Looking back at decades past can help us develop a new appreciation and better understanding of everything dentistry has to offer today. For this reason and many more, our Houston dental practice is passionate about dental education. In the following blog, we’ll teach you about the history of dentistry from 1900 to 1955.
The first decade of the twentieth century was an exciting time. Electricity had paved the way for life-changing inventions like the vacuum cleaner and washing machine. This made it easier to perform household chores, freeing up more time for people to read, learn, socialize, and take care of themselves. But electricity didn’t just simplify things at home. It also made it easier for dentists to do their jobs. For the first time, dentists could use power drills to remove the dead tissue from cavities, rather than having to do so manually. This paved the way for even greater technological advances over the next century.
In addition to the pioneering advances powered by electricity, the early twentieth century heralded other dental developments, particularly when it came to education. For instance, according to Local Histories, “the first dental degree was awarded by Birmingham University in 1901. In the same year, the American Dental Education Association notes: “Edward H. Angle started the first school of orthodontics.” So, just as dental technology was undergoing massive improvement, so was dental instruction.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that several other important innovations occurred during the early 1900s. In 1903, Charles Land created the porcelain jacket crown, designed to fit over and shield an entire tooth. This could be used to repair a tooth with a crack, severe decay, a pulp infection, or another more serious dental problem. Dr. Armstrong and our team use a modern successor of this restoration today in the form of our beautiful porcelain crowns. We use state-of-the-art systems to custom-make natural-looking, sturdy caps for our patients’ teeth, in part thanks to the design that Charles Land devised over a century ago.
Next, in 1905, “Alfred Einhorn, a German chemist, [formulated] the local anesthetic procain, later marketed under the trade name Novocain,” as per the American Dental Association’s dental history timeline. Heinrich Braun brought Novocain to the United States in 1907, and the rest is history. If you’ve ever had a dental procedure, you might be familiar with Novocain. This is the numbing agent that dentists like Dr. Armstrong use today to keep patients comfortable during fillings, oral surgery, and other treatments.
With all of the changes taking place in the world of dentistry, it follows that these newly-educated, well-equipped dentists needed a reference guide of proper techniques and procedures. In 1908, “Greene Vardiman Black, the leading reformer and educator of American dentistry, [published] his monumental two-volume treatise Operative Dentistry, which [remained] the essential clinical dental text for fifty years.” This volume was proof in and of itself that dentistry had come a long way in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Understanding how to properly clean your teeth is absolutely vital to good oral health. This seems obvious nowadays, but it wasn’t always so. Alfred C. Fones first introduced the concept of dental hygiene in 1913. He “[opened] the Fones Clinic for Dental Hygienists in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Most of the twenty-seven women graduates of the first class [ended up being] employed by the Bridgeport Board of Education to clean the teeth of school children,” as per the American Dental Association. This preventive care “greatly reduced the incidence of caries [cavities] among these children” which spurred “the dental hygienist movement.” Today, this movement is still going strong at our Houston dental practice. When you come in for your biannual appointment, our dental hygienists will professionally clean your teeth and Dr. Armstrong will examine them. As we learned nearly 100 years ago, making sure to visit us at least twice a year can help you avoid decay, as well as a wide variety of other dental disorders.
During the 1920s, the Ritter Dental Company introduced the Model A Dental X-Ray, finally giving dentists an efficient diagnostic instrument. Unlike the more advanced X-Rays of today, this machine needed two groups of transformers to adapt it to the various voltages and frequencies used during that time. In fact, in order to maintain clinicians’ and patients’ safety, both needed to stay at least one foot away from the high-voltage wire, which ran oustide the arm from the transformer cabinet to the X-Ray head. The Ritter company improved their X-Ray machine in the 1930s, with the development of the Ritter Model B Shock Proof X-Ray. This instrument eliminated earlier guesswork with an exact radiographic technique. It had a flexible X-Ray head that was easy for dentists to adjust, and the machine made larger radiographs (up to 14 by 17 inches) possible.
Of course, at present, X-Rays technology has progressed exponentially further since that time. Just as the Ritter Model B was safer and more streamlined than the Ritter Model A, current X-Ray technology is designed to be less harmful and more effective. At our Houston office, Dr. Armstrong uses digital X-Rays. The digital system reduces radiation by up to 75 percent and makes images instantly available.
Dental education kept pace with the technological breakthroughs of this time. It evolved into a professional discipline during this period. In 1923, the American Association of Dental Schools was established. The following year, the American Dental Assistants Association was founded. Dental schools became university-based in after the Carnegie Foundation issued the Gies report, a comprehensive review of the state of dental education, in 1926.
As dentistry became more academic, research in this field made strides, as well. Research on fluoride was a major advancement in the 1930s. During that time, according to The History of Dentistry from the Nambia Dental Association, “Frederick S. McKay, a Colorado dentist, [became] convinced that brown stains (mottling) on his patients’ teeth [were] related to their water supply. McKay’s research [verified] that drinking water with high levels of naturally occurring fluoride [was] associated with low dental caries and a high degree of mottled enamel.” Later dentists, such as H. Trendley Dean, used this finding to “[determine] the ideal level of fluoride in drinking water to substantially reduce decay without mottling.” The American Dental Association reports that, as a result of this investigation, “the water fluoridation era” began in 1945, “when the cities of Newburgh, New York, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, [added] sodium fluoride to their public water systems.” Today, at our office, we also offer professional fluoride treatments to help enhance dental health and prevent potential problems.
This epoch was also an important time for other dental technologies. For example, in 1937, “Alvin Strock [inserted] the first Vitallium dental screw implant. Vitallium, the first successful biocompatible implant metal, had been developed a year earlier by Charles Venable, an orthopedic surgeon.” This biocompatible metal integrated with patients’ jawbones and tissue to form a solid basis to hold restorations such as crowns, fixed bridges, and dentures. Dental implants are an extremely important advance in restorative dentistry because they allow these restorations to look more natural, feel more comfortable, and improve the function of your jaw. Today, Dr. Armstrong and our team use dental implants made of titanium.
On the daily dental hygiene front, “the nylon toothbrush, the first made with synthetic bristles, [appeared] on the market” in 1938, as per the American Dental Association. Nylon is still used in toothbrushes today.
The next fifteen years were full of findings that still affect us all today. In 1948, according to the American Dental Association, Harry S. Truman created the National Institute of Dental Research, “initiating federal funding for dental research,” bolstering the dental discipline even further.
In order to improve dental fillings and bondings used to repair damaged teeth, “Oskar Haggar, a Swiss chemist, [developed] the first system of bonding [attaching] acrylic resin to dentin” in 1949. Six years later, “Michael Buonocore [described] the acid etch technique, a simple method of increasing the adhesion of acrylic fillings to enamel.” These improvements paved the way for stronger, more attractive prostheses.
Building on McKay and Dean’s fluoridation projects, “the first fluoride toothpastes [were] marketed” in 1950. Most toothpastes today still contain fluoride.
Although many monumental changes took place during the first half of the twentieth century, even more advances were yet to come. In an upcoming blog, we’ll look at the history of dentistry from 1955 to present.
As you can see, decades of dedication, drive, hard work, and insight went into making modern dentistry what it is. That’s just one reason why Dr. Armstrong and our team are so passionate about the treatments and services we have to offer. We would love to answer any further questions you have about your dental health or dentistry in general. If you haven’t seen us for an appointment in the last six months, or you’d like assistance on any particular oral health concern, contact our Houston practice today to schedule an appointment.