Dentistry, although considered a modern profession, had its origins many centuries ago. Man has always experienced dental pain and has long tried to alleviate it in some way. We find references to the treatment of teeth as early as the sixteenth century B.C. Ancient Egyptian medical writings known as the Ebers Papyn, contained prescriptions for toothache and also gum swellings. The Greeks and Romans suffered greatly from tooth decay, whereas archeological studies of ancient skulls reveal that man living close to nature didn’t suffer the ravages of decay. The cave dweller and the Stone Age man ate raw, pure foods and chewed them vigorously, thus exercising their jaws and keeping their teeth strong. In Greek mythology, Asclepius, the god of medicine, is credited with having extracted teeth. About 500 B.C., Herodotus wrote of the degree of specialization that dentistry had reached. The practice of replacing teeth probably existed at that time. Hippocrates (460 to 377 B.C.) spoke of the information of teeth, tracing their beginning to intra-uterine life. In addition, he discussed the relationship of the teeth to the pronunciation of words and related the number of teeth in the mouth to longevity (Vershel 21).
During the first century A.D., Celsus, a Roman encyclopedist, wrote in great detail on the extraction of teeth. The epigrams of Martial, another first-century Roman writer, referred to the use of toothpicks made of mastic wood quill. It was not until the time of Galen, Greek physician who flourished five centuries after Hippocrates, that the first great stride in anatomy were made. Abul Kasim, an Arab surgeon who dies about 1013, advanced surgical methods in extraction and presented drawings of dental instruments. He was the first to discuss removal of tarter deposits around teeth. The only other medical knowledge of the middle Ages was that retained by the monks. Only these religious men were capable of reading the writings of Hippocrates and Celsus and passing on the wisdom of the Greco-Roman civilization (Vershel 22).
The physicians of that time did some tooth pulling and bleeding below their dignity. For this reason, they relegated these operations to the barbers, whom they considered their inferiors. Barbers were not the only ones who extracted teeth during the Middle Ages. The first American to process porcelain teeth was Charles Willison Peale. According to his biographer, he was a “harness maker, clock and watchmaker, silversmith, painter in oil, crayon and miniature; molded eye glasses and made the shagreen cases for the latter; was a solider, legislator, lecturer, and preserver of animals, whose deficiencies he supplied by making glass eyes and artificial limbs; constructed for himself a violin and guitar; molded in clay, wax, and plaster, and was the first dentist in ths country who made sets of enameled teeth. “ Peale is known to have made a set of teeth for himself, as well as for our first President, George Washington (Vershel 28).
Until the nineteenth century all advances in dentistry had been made in Europe. From that time on, however, the United States played the most important role in developing this new profession. In 1840 the first dental school in the world, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, was established. During the next three decades, other schools were started in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and other cities. As the requirements for becoming a dentist became more stringent, the cost of giving a student the proper education became greater. Gradually it became more and more difficult for a private school of dentistry to maintain its existence. During the twentieth century, advances in dentistry have been astonishing. The development of both local and general anesthesia has changed the practice of dentistry, from the patient’s point of view, from an agonizing experience to one that is only occasionally unpleasant. Experiments in the use of vulcanized rubber; porcelain and various kinds of plastic have brought artificial teeth into a price range the masses can afford. Most recently, it has been found that tooth decay in children can be lessened by adding a small amount of fluorine to the community’s water supply or the topical use of fluoride stannous fluoride, or the like (Vershel 30).
Dentistry is by no means static, and it is a field in which learning process will never cease. It is no longer a vocation for barbers and artisans, but rather one for serious men and women interested in a profession. The need for dentists is going to become more acute as the population increases and, according to present estimates, the number of graduates from dental schools will not be sufficient to take care of this need. As a dentist, therefore you will be in great demand, and your profession should be financially rewarding. The federal government has begun to recognize fully the real value of good national dental health. More and more money each year is being granted by congress for the purpose of dental research in hospitals and dental colleges. Not only should this result in a general advancement of the profession, but also more opportunities will be available to the man/woman who does not want a private practice and prefers a life of research (Vershel 115).
It is perfectly clear therefore, that dentistry is now a far cry from that practiced by early barbers, and charlatans. A tremendous amount of work is being done today to eliminate discomfort in dental treatment. The use of local anesthesia has been improved. Analgesia (the use of “sweet air”, which is nitrous oxide and oxygen), is used in many offices today. The use of hifi or stereophonic music is being used throughout the office, including the treatment rooms where the patient can listen to music with earphones to counteract the sound of the high-speed drill. Today thanks to unions and insurance companies, many corporations, unions, private insurance companies, and the federal government provide the average family with dental care paid for fully or in part (Vershel 116).
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