History of the smile, dentistry and oral health

Our smiles have been around for thousands of years, but only relatively recently have we made great strides in maintaining a good-looking and healthy grin. The meaning of a smile has evolved dramatically since the beginning of the arts, too.

The flat lips on Greek sculptures reflected wisdom, and Buddha’s holy smile is supposed to represent supreme enlightenment. Meanwhile, the stoic portraits of the Victorian era were so common because smiling was considered childish. And that’s not to mention the eternally-debated smile of da Vinci’s enigmatic Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous in the history of art.

But it is dentistry that has really revolutionised our smiles and the importance we place on oral health. Take a look at the timeline of dentistry, from its humble beginnings to the modern day.

  • In the past tooth loss was very common. It was widespread knowledge in the ancient world that cavities and toothache were caused by “tooth worms” literally burrowing into the tooth! This belief was held in Sumer, India, Egypt, Japan and China.
  • The first dental technicians, who were Etruscans in Italy, grew concerned with infections associated with dental decay, gum disease, and cavities. Generally dentistry was associated with pain and illness in those days. Despite this, the first restorations were made by these dental technicians. Interestingly, the Etruscans also constructed sculptures of deities who were not to be feared – so they were depicted as smiling.
  • In Ancient Egypt, the first person to be called dentist was a royal physician called Hesi-Re. On his tombstone were engraved the words “doctor of the tooth”.
  • The ancient Egyptians also made toothpaste from pumice stone and vinegar to scrub stains from their teeth. Sometimes they hammered seashells into their gums as makeshift tooth replacements. Later, the Romans would use a mixture of bones, eggshells, oyster shells and honey to clean their teeth.
  • In 700 AD the first bristle toothbrushes were made in China during the Tang Dynasty, using hair from hogs, horses and badgers.
  • During the Middle Ages, from approximately 500 to 1500 AD, a lack of dental technology was mirrored by a lack of smiling portrayed in the arts. At this time in Germany, the only cure for toothache was believed to a kiss from a donkey!
  • When the Renaissance peaked in the 1500s, there were few prostheses and still little smiling.
  • From 1700 to 1800 the Age of Enlightenment saw the advent of the first porcelain dentures. Along with that came some more frequent representations of smiling in art. This was all encouraged by Pierre Fauchard, known as the father of modern dentistry, who in 1728 published “The Surgeon Dentist” as a vision of the modern profession.
  • In 1938, boar bristles were swapped for nylon bristles, and the toothbrush as we know went on sale.
  • Modern times have ushered in computer-aided design and manufacturing, a technology which can create dental appliances with more accuracy than ever before. We’ve also put more emphasis on the oral health of children, stressing the importance of a healthy mouth from an early age. And in photos we have begun smiling!

So history tells us that, when people have better oral hygiene, they’re more likely to smile. And keeping our teeth, gums and mouth healthy throughout our lives is something we can all smile about.

Call us here at Dental Care Partnership on 0121 354 1922 to book an appointment with one of our friendly team.