618AD – The first bristle toothbrush was invented in China and is thought to have used the bristle from hogs’ necks. Animal bristle was used for many centuries – not the most hygienic arrangement since animal bristle retained bacteria.
1180AD – Italian text The Chirugia of Roger Frugard advises Latin readers about a number of dental procedures; including how to apply a preparation of marshmallow to a dislocated jaw.
Medieval Times – 12th century to 14th century
In England, rich people’s teeth generally needed far more maintenance than those of peasants as the aristocracy enjoyed a richer, and far more sugary, diet. The first primitive forms of fillings date from this time but the materials used could be a little primitive and sometimes included pig grease, arsenic and newts!
1685 – The Operator for the Teeth becomes the first dental book written in English and quickly becomes the handbook of the barbers and blacksmiths who make a lucrative side-line from dabbling in dentistry in the era before dentistry becomes a specialist profession.
1690 – The autobiography of Oxford antiquarian Anthony Wood contains the first English Language use of the word toothbrush. Wood simply states that he bought one from a Mr. J. Barret.
1770 – English man William Addis is imprisoned for starting a riot. While incarcerated, Addis dreams up the idea for mass-manufacturing a toothbrush. In 1780, Addis’s invention, which looks uncannily like the Chinese one from 618AD, hit the shops and would eventually sound the death knell for the old method of cleaning teeth with a salty, sooty rag. Cheap versions of the Addis toothbrushes used pig bristle, with badger bristle used on dearer models. The Addis company is now called Wisdom and the animal bristle has long since been replaced by nylon.
1848 – Waldo Hanchett patents the first dental chair; an invention which initially bears a strong similarity to the barber’s chair on which so much English dental treatment was still carried out at this time.
1860 – John Tomes becomes the first person in England to officially register as a dentist. Tomes was later knighted for his services to dentistry – he developed his own version of the dentist’s chair and favoured using different instruments for different teeth.
1875 – George Green patents the first electric dental drill.
1884 – Carl Koller introduces the use of cocaine as a local anaesthetic.
1892 – Inspired by seeing painters use paint from tubes, American doctor Washington Sheffield manufactures toothpaste into a collapsible tube.
1898 – The first patent for dental floss is received. The mass-manufacture of floss was, before World War II, poorly-received though it did get a mention in James Joyce’s 1918 book Ulysses.
1914 – Fluoride is added to toothpaste for the first time.
1945 – US soldiers returning home after World War II bring with them the routine of cleaning their teeth daily; a practice which they were obliged to have during the war but which wasn’t common practice in the pre-war years.
1948 – The National Health Service is introduced in Great Britain and provides greater provision for dental care.
1954 – The Broxodent, the world’s first electric toothbrush, is invented in Switzerland.
1968 – The first national dental survey in England and Wales is carried out – adults are the subject of the first survey and children are the subject of the second.
1985 – The water fluoridation act is passed in England and Wales.
The future: Computer technology is taking an increasingly big role in dental care treatments with X-ray scanners now available which undertake 3D scans of mouth and bone and tissues to manufacture missing teeth.
Teeth have also been transplanted and grown inside the mouths of mice; a breakthrough which gives many experts hope that restorative techniques will improve even further over the next 50 years.
If the advancements in dental techniques made during the Victorian era can be replicated in this era then the future will certainly be bright for dentistry.