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Hippocrates, the physician from Ancient Greece, was amongst the first people to write about the structure and formation of the teeth. Later, this interest was shared by the medical writers Aulus Cornelius Celsus and Claudius Galenus. Galenus is thought to have been the first to have prescribed treatments for irregular teeth, filing down the teeth to create more space, while Celsus prescribed finger pressure to correct misplaced teeth.

The Renaissance was the next period of intense interest in issues of anatomy, with the function of the teeth being described and investigated by Leonardo da Vinci, Andreas Vesalius and Ambrose Pare, amongst others. Pare was particularly interested in dentofacial anomalies, developing the first obturator for dental treatments, and in 1530 dentistry’s first textbook was published titled Artzney Buchlein.

Pierre Fauchard, a French dentist working in the 1700s, published a scientific-based dentistry textbook in 1728 – Le Chirugien Dentiste – which had chapters that focused on teeth that are badly aligned.

Fauchard was also responsible for the creation of the first orthodontic appliance, the bandolet. The gold or silver band was used to enlarge the arch, using waxed silk ligatures to attach it to the teeth and also apply pressure. Another French dentist working in the 1700s was Robert Bunon, who prescribed the removal of teeth in cases of overcrowding.

In 1771, The Natural History of Teeth was published by the English surgeon and anatomist, John Hunter. The book included descriptions of the growth and functions of the teeth, as well as describing jaw development, and Hunter’s protégé, Joseph Fox, went on to develop a treatment to fix an anterior cross bite. Fox’s treatment was based on a silver or gold arch with block bites made from ivory, and the teeth were drawn towards the arch with threads made from silk that were regularly adjusted.

Fox was an advocate of extracting deciduous teeth, which is a debate that has long existed in dentistry, with orthodontists – such as Jonathan Alexander Abt – coming down on both sides of the argument.

Norman Kingsley published the first text that formally discussed orthodontics in 1879, A Treatise on Oral Deformities as a Branch of Mechanical Surgery. Orthodontics is explicitly concerned with the correction of malocclusions, and although it had been in practice since the Egyptians it was only declared as a specialty by Edward H Angle in 1900. Angle went on to establish the American Association of Orthodontists, the first school of its kind that focused on teaching orthodontics and classifying malocclusions.

Angle and the American Association of Orthodontics were opposed to the extraction of teeth, always treating malocclusions with non-extraction techniques. However, in the 1930s Calvin S. Case started to advocate the use of extraction. Case not only believed in extraction; he was also an advocate of the use of retainers to maintain the results that were achieved by the orthodontist.

Other important figures in the history of orthodontics include George Northcroft, Harrold Chapman, Clifford Ballard, Steve Gould, David DiBiase, John Hooper and Ernest Sheldon Friel. For more information about these key figures, please refer to the embedded PDF.

As orthodontics has evolved over time, the modern orthodontist uses a number of patient factors to provide more individual treatment options. There have been many advances in the fields of dentistry and orthodontics, including digital radiography, skeletal anchorage, better bracket systems and the introduction of aligner therapies.

Mini-implants, mini-plates and Temporary Anchorage Devices have made it possible to move teeth in a more predictable manner, and improved cone beam computer tomography has helped orthodontists gain a better understanding of the craniofacial complex, and more specifically tooth position.