Orthodontics may appear to be a relatively modern branch of dentistry in many people’s minds; however, its roots can be traced back thousands of years.
Although the tools and techniques of the trade have altered profoundly – with modern orthodontists such as Jonathan Alexander Abt using a range of highly sophisticated equipment – people living in the distant past were also keen to resolve misalignments of the teeth or jaws which could make chewing and speaking difficult.
Orthodontal Practice in Ancient Egypt
A significant number of Egyptian mummies have been found with bands of metal wrapped around their teeth, and archaeologists have suggested that these could have been used in connection with catgut to put pressure on and move the teeth into a more aligned position.
Some of these mummies are approximately 50,000 years old. Take a look at the embedded PDF for more information about ancient Egyptian dental and orthodontic practices.
Ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans
Archaeologists have discovered gold bands on the teeth of Etruscan women that are thought to have served the purpose of keeping them in alignment after death. Hippocrates, the Greek physician, wrote about irregularities of the teeth around 400BC.
Four centuries after Hippocrates’ writings, Aulus Cornelius Celsus suggested that the fingers should be used regularly to push newly emerging teeth into their correct positions. Pliny the Elder, of ancient Rome, recommended filing teeth that had grown too long.
17th and 18th Century Orthodontics
Dental impressions started being taken in the 17th century, with wax being used in at least some cases. Later, the use of plaster of Paris was discovered in 1745.
The 18th century was a time of rapid advancement in orthodontics, with the development of the bandeau, which is often cited as the first modern form of the brace. The bandeau consisted of a piece of metal in a horseshoe shape that featured holes for the teeth to slot into.
A wire construction called a ‘crib’ moved things further forward in 1819, and in 1822 occipital anchorage was invented which fastens to the jaw from the outside of the mouth to apply gentle pressure to correct misalignment of the teeth.
The Father of Modern Orthodontics
In the late 19th century, Edward Hartley Angle began to identify all the characteristics of misalignment and malocclusion, and to develop increasingly effective orthodontic appliances to correct these issues.