Dentistry - Past and Present
Dental ailments have remained remarkably similar throughout history. Decay, toothaches,periodontal disease and premature tooth loss were documented in ancient chronicles. The exacttime that dental art made its appearance isn't known; however, there is ample proof of its existenceamong the civilizations of Egypt, Etruscans of Central Italy, Assyrians, China, etc. Since DentalHistory is such a broad field, a few of the highlights of dentistry will be mentioned in order of importance and chronology.
I. Pre-historic era.
At the beginning, life consisted of simple creatures of the sea
which consisted of masses of protoplasmic cells.
. By engulfing themselves around a desired morsel, they were able to absorb food. Later a slitdeveloped, the forerunner of the oral cavity and great gut.
. Much later tentacles and feelers developed around this slit. The tentacles helped to carry the foodto the slit, oral cavity and great gut.
Then nature took the outer layer of skin and carried it inward to the oral cavity.This skin contained tentacles which were the forerunners of our teeth. These tentacles, also calledshagreen, were calcified.
. Some of these sea creatures developed lungs and became amphibians. Some began to spend timeon land. At first they crawled on their bellies, later they developed limbs and feet and arose from theground. Faced with a new environment including a mixed diet, the creaturesevolved into stronger animals made up of hard bone and tough muscle fiber. Originally three singletentacles fused and became tri-conodonts. These later changed into teeth very similar tothe teeth of the Catarrine Apes (who inhabited the earth about 40,000,000 years ago in the middle of the Tertiary Period). The descendants of these apes have the same dental formula as man. Somehowfire and its benefits were discovered. Cooking made sea food more palatable. Fish and shell fishbecame the staple diet as well as nuts, fruits, and the flesh of animals. Due to this food supply manyof the tribes of Egypt and China thrived in the river valleys. Later cultivated grains such as rice,wheat and barley were added to the diet. If we set the beginning of history at 4000 B.C., toothachescan be traced to the earliest records. In the Egyptian manuscripts known as Eber's Papyri, whichdates back to 3700 B.C., dental maladies such as toothaches and sore gums are mentioned. Alsoabout 3000 years ago, the Chinese were concerned about the condition of their teeth and gums. Inmanuscripts of that period, at least nine dental ailments were listed and also prescriptions for theirtreatment. Ancient petrified skulls showed the presence of decay. In the Giza Pyramids skulls werefound with evidence of tooth decay. Be it Asia, Africa or America among the Co-magnon (directancestor of man) who painted walls of caves 20,000 B.C., we find all men suffered their share of dental ills.Magic played an important part in the treatment of dental ills, and people of early ages had oddbeliefs concerning teeth. The Egyptians believed that the mouse was under the direct protection of the sun, therefore if one had a toothache the split body of a warm mouse was applied to theaffected side. In India the cuspid of Buddha was enshrined in a famous temple (at Kandi) and prayedto in fertility rites. Prayers were offered up to saints for the relief of pain. St. Apollonia of Alexandria, 249 A.D., was one such saint. She is now the Patron Saint of Dentistry.