Oral disease has been a problem for humans since the beginning of time. Skulls of the Cro-Magnon people, who inhabited the earth 25,000 years ago, show evidence of tooth decay. The earliest recorded reference to oral disease is from a Sumerian text (circa 5,000 B.C.) that describes “tooth worms” as a cause of dental decay.
“Things have certainly changed from the Middle Ages to the early 1700s, when most dental therapy was provided by so called ‘barber surgeons,'” says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Eric Curtis, DDS, renowned dental historian. “These jacks-of-all trades would extract teeth and perform minor surgery, in addition to cutting hair, applying leeches and performing embalming.”
In the past century, human life expectancy has almost doubled and immense changes in quality of life have occurred. Some of the changes that have had a positive impact on dentistry and include increased emphasis on personal hygiene; availability of antibiotics, vaccines and fluoridation; improved diets; electricity and heating; the X-ray; and the telephone, computers and the Internet. Present-day dental accomplishments include the use of silver and white fillings, air-abrasion and computer-assisted techniques for the filling of cavities and more.
“No one can know for certain what the future of dentistry will hold,” states Dr. Curtis. “I think we will see an integration of dentistry into comprehensive health care and an increased focus on the link between oral health and overall health as we enter the 21st century. Computer-assisted technology for diagnosis and treatment, and gene-mediated therapeutics, which alter the genetic structure of teeth to make them impervious to decay, will likely play an important role in the future of dentistry.”