History Of Orthodontics

Philadelphia, PA

Many people think orthodontics is a modern innovation, but the history of this science is not what you might expect.

Ancient Times

The practice of orthodontics traces back to ancient times. Archeologists have found human remains with crooked teeth that are 50,000 years old. Mummies reveal that Ancient Egyptians used bands connected with catgut to straighten teeth.

Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Etruscans also had methods of orthodontics. Hippocrates wrote the first known description of tooth abnormalities around the year 400 B.C. 4 centuries later, the Romans Celsus and Pliny the Elder recommended pushing newly erupted teeth into place with finger pressure and filing them to address elongation. Etruscan women used gold bands to preserve the position of their teeth after death.

Enlightenment Period

Orthodontics developed significantly in the 17th and 18th centuries, starting with the invention of dental impressions. In the 17th century, Matthaeus Gottfried Purmann (1649-1711) used wax to make impressions and Phillip Pfaff (1713-1766) used plaster of Paris to this effect in 1756.

Pierre Fauchard (1678-1761), considered the Father of Dentistry, developed a device called a bandeau. This horseshoe-shaped strip of metal had regularly spaced holes that fit around the teeth to align them. Fauchard also operated on patients to forcibly realign their teeth with a pair of forceps and tie them to adjacent teeth to keep them in position while they healed. Christophe-François Delabarre (1787-1862) placed swelling threads and wedges of wood in between crowded teeth to separate them.

American Orthodontics

The 19th century saw important contributions to orthodontics in America. In 1822, J.S. Gunnell invented a type of headgear called the occipital anchorage that is attached to the jaw from the outside of the mouth to apply pressure to teeth. In 1840, Chapin A. Harris (1806-1860) published the first classic book on dentistry, The Dental Art, which described techniques like putting gold caps on molars to open the bite and soldering knobs on bands to help with tooth rotation.

Charles Goodyear (1800-1860) invented vulcanized rubber in 1839, which also had uses within orthodontics. In 1846, E.G. Tucker used rubber in orthodontic appliances for the first time in America. Edward Hartley Angle (1855-1930) is considered the Father of Modern Orthodontics. Beginning in 1880, he identified the properties of malocclusion (misalignment) and developed a set of highly effective orthodontic appliances.

Modern Dentistry

Before the 1970s, orthodontists wound wires around teeth to keep brackets attached to them. But today, we have dental adhesives, which allow us to attach the brackets to the surface of the teeth. Orthodontic experts also discovered that stainless steel is easier to manipulate than gold or silver (not to mention cheaper), so it eventually replaced gold and silver for wires. The 1970s also saw the introduction of lingual braces, which run along the inside surfaces of the teeth.

Since then, orthodontic patients have even more dental appliances available to them. Perhaps the most notable modern invention within orthodontics is removable clear aligners, which straighten teeth discreetly and don’t limit the foods you can eat during treatment.

For more information, or if you’re wondering why you should choose an Orthodontist, please contact our office: (215) 800-0015.