• Home
  • News
  • 15 Random Facts About Dentistry, Gum disease and Periodontitis You Probably Never Knew

15 Random Facts About Dentistry, Gum disease and Periodontitis You Probably Never Knew

We all know that too much sugar causes tooth decay and that we need to go to the dentist regularly if we want our teeth and gums to stay healthy. But if you thought that tooth decay and gum disease were the scourge of a modern society, addicted to too much sugar and fat, or that ‘cosmetic dentistry’ was a modern trend, you may be surprised.
So how far back do such things as toothbrushes, toothpaste and dentures really go? Who first discovered gum disease? Who coined the name ‘Dentist’? And who was the first dentist – or periodontist for that matter?
Read on to discover some of the weird and wonderful facts about dentistry and gum disease you probably never knew (or even thought you’d need to know… until now!)

Who was the first person to suffer from gum disease?

Although sugar, fat and alcohol have been dubbed the ‘modern perpetrators of gum disease’, gum disease and tooth decay have been around for millennia. In fact, according to Wikipeadia, skulls of the Cro-Magnon people, who inhabited the earth 25,000 years ago, show evidence of tooth decay. Clearly theirs wasn’t cause by too much chocolate!

When was the cause of tooth decay and gum disease first discovered?

The very first reference to tooth decay was around 5,000B.C, in a Sumerian text that describes “tooth worms” as the cause of dental decay… Hmmm, interesting thinking!

Who was the first ever dentist?

Hippocrates may be credited as the Father of Modern Medicine, and indeed both Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, including treating decayed teeth and gum disease, extracting teeth with forceps, and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws in texts dating as far back as 500 B.C. But the earliest known reference to a person identified as a dental practitioner goes all the way back to 2600 B.C. Hesy-Re, an Egyptian scribe is often called the first “dentist.”  An inscription on his tomb includes the title “the greatest of those who deal with teeth, and of physicians.”
It was not until the 18th century that the term ‘dentist’ first appeared, however. It was the French surgeon Pierre Fauchard who became known as the “father of modern dentistry”. As well as adapting tools from watch makers, jewellers and even barbers that he thought could be used in dentistry, Fauchard introduced the first dental fillings.
By the 1750s the term “dentist” had spread to Britain. These early ‘dentists’ were often professional goldsmiths, ivory turners or students of barber-surgeons (perhaps because the knives and instruments they used for cutting hair also came in very handy for cutting out teeth?!)
The British Dental Association, the regulating dentistry body today, was formed in 1880 but it wasn’t until the 1921 Dentists Act that the industry became fully regulated (and barbers knives were finally out-lawed). Phew!

When was the first text book on dentistry written?
The first dental textbook to be published in English was in 1685. It was called “The Operator for Teeth” by Charles Allen.
In 1728 the French dentist Pierre Fauchard published his treatise Le Chirurgien Dentiste. This set out for the first time everything that was known about dental disease with full case histories and illustrations of how to deal with it. Never before had every aspect of dentistry been fully expounded in a single work. There were chapters on scaling the teeth, filing them, false teeth, extraction and moving teeth for orthodontic purposes. Pretty advanced stuff for those times!

So what about Toothbrushes and Toothpaste?
If you thought that toothbushes and toothpaste were a fairly ‘modern’ invention that had only been around a few hundred years, then again, sorry to disappoint but you’d be wrong.

Who invented toothpaste?
Egyptians are believed to have started using a paste to clean their teeth around 5000BCAncient Greeks and Romans are known to have used toothpastes, and people in China and India first used toothpaste more than 6,000 years ago. In China, twigs and bones were mashed and mixed with water, salt, and flower petals to form a thick paste. This paste was then put on the end of a sharp bamboo leaf and applied to the teeth. This proved to be a very effective treatment for gingivitis and gum disease.
The ingredients of ancient toothpastes however were very different and varied. They included a powder of ox hooves’, ashes and burnt eggshells that was combined with pumice. Crushed bones and oyster shells were used by the ancient Greeks. Whilst the Romans favoured a urine-based toothpaste, popular mainly in Rome. The Romans also added more flavoring to help with bad breath, as well as powdered charcoal and bark.
In Egypt, manuscripts from around 400B.C describe a recipe for the best toothpaste. It includes a mixture of mashed salt, crushed pepper, wet mint leaves, and dried iris flowers.
The development of toothpastes in more modern times started in the 1800s. Early versions contained soap and in the 1850s chalk was included.
Prior to the 1850s, ‘toothpastes’ were usually powders. In 1873 Colgate started the mass production of toothpaste in jars. Toothpaste in a tube similar to modern-day toothpaste tubes was not developed til the 1890s.
Lastly, did you know that until after 1945, all toothpastes contained soap… adds a whole new meaning to the term ‘Go and wash your mouth out with soap’…!

When was the first toothbrush invented?
By comparison, the bristle toothbrush, similar to the type used today, is a relative ‘new kid on the block’. It was not invented until 1498 in China. The bristles were actually the stiff, coarse hairs taken from the back of a hog’s neck and attached to handles made of bone or bamboo.
By 1780 William Addis had started selling brushes made with cow bone handles and horse hair or pig hair for the bristles. They sold at 6d. Only a couple of pounds in today’s money but way out of the reach of most people. No wonder tooth decay and gum disease was so rife!

How many brands of toothpaste are there today?
With all that toothpaste heritage, you may think that world-wide there would be hundreds of different brands of toothpaste. Wikipedia, however,  lists just 45 (although it admits this is an ‘an incomplete list’). Unsurprisingly, most of these are now owned by a handful of multi-nationals.

So when did the craze for whitening teeth first become popular?
Again, you may think that tooth whitening is a ‘modern’ cosmetic introduction but adverts as far back as the 1750’s show dentists advertising a range of services from the treatment of gum disease to scaling, fillings, dentures and even tooth whitening.

And what about Dentures?
When did the first dentures appear? Surely they must be a modern invention? Err, no. They’ve been around for thousands of years too.
Already around 500 BC, the Etruscans in northern Italy were making dentures out of human or other animal teeth and skillfully designed false teeth out of ivory and bone. These false teeth were secured in the mouth by gold bridgework.  Unfortunately, the skills and artistry that went into these early efforts were later lost until the 1800s. These later dentures were typically  made from walrus, elephant or hippopotamus ivory and even real human teeth.

When did the world’s first dental school open?
Dr. John M. Harris started the world’s first dental school in Bainbridge, Ohio, and helped to establish dentistry as a health profession. It opened on 21 February 1828, and today is a dental museum.

Where did the word Periodontal Disease stem from?
The term “periodontal” refers to the tissues and bone that support your teeth. “PERIO” means around and “DONTAL” means tooth. By saying “around”, this means that periodontal disease has to do with the gum tissues and bone that support the teeth, as opposed to tooth decay, which is the tooth itself. It is extremely important that you keep these healthy and free of periodontal disease. The best way to keep the periodontal areas in your mouth healthy is to visit your dentist regularly and have a periodontal specialist perform an oral exam to ensure all is well with your gums.

Who was the first Periodontist?
Periodontists, or gum disease specialists, appear to be a much more ‘modern invention’.  All available accounts seem to suggest that Dr. Grace Rogers may well have been the first practicing periodontist, around 1914. Now, it stands to reason that periodontists likely existed before this; they simply were not documented. They may have gone by a different title.

How many people suffer from Gum Disease in the UK today?
Even with all the modern advances in dentistry, it is estimated that almost half of the UK adult population will suffer from gum disease, at some point in their life. However, this is at least an improvement. An excavation of Spitalfields, London, which contained burials from 1729-1852 found that 87% of people had cavities. Clearly those early “tooth operators” weren’t as good as they claimed to be!

And finally, if you thought that all dentists were rich but there was no money to be made in toothpaste, think again…
Tom’s of Maine – was founded by Tom and Kate Chappell in 1970 with $5,000 USD. In 2006, a controlling 84% stake in Tom’s of Maine was purchased by Colgate-Palmolive for USD $100,000,000! (source Wikipedia)

So now you know. 15 Random facts about dentistry, gum disease and periodontitis you never knew you needed to know.
Please feel free to add your own random facts in the comments below!

Dr Peter Galgut lectures extensively on the subject of Periodontal Disease and Preventative Dentistry. He has been voted Dentist of the Year twice and treats private periodontal patients at his practice in North London. You can contact him here: Dr Peter Galgut

(article sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dentistry |  http://www.incisorsandmolars.com/history-of-dentistry.html | http://www.bda.org/museum/the-story-of-dentistry/ancient-modern/the-first-dentists.aspx | http://ezinearticles.com/?Who-Was-the-First-Periodontist?&id=2542688 | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dentures

Peter Galgut

2 Replies to “15 Random Facts About Dentistry, Gum disease and Periodontitis You Probably Never Knew”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.