History of Orthodontics Oral hygiene and fixing teeth have been around for millennia. Researchers have found dental floss and toothpick grooves in the teeth of prehistoric humans, and archaeologists have discovered mummified remains with crude metal bands on individual teeth. They surmise that catgut was used on these ancient patients as brace “wires.” But today’s specialty of orthodontics is a recent invention.
History credits two men with being the most influential in the understanding of malocclusions – Norman W. Kingsley, who wrote “Treatise on Oral Deformities” in 1880, and dentist J. N. Farrar, who wrote “A Treatise on the Irregularities of the Teeth and Their Corrections”. Dr. Farrar designed brace appliances, and he was the first to suggest the use of mild force at timed intervals to move teeth. However, it was not until the 1890s that orthodontics became the specialty that it is today.
Dr. Edward Angle, called the “Father of Modern Orthodontics,” was the first to emphasize the importance of the way teeth fit and work together. He published a simple classification system that created a way for dentists to describe how crooked teeth are, what way teeth are pointing and how teeth fit together. In 1900, Angle and a few colleagues formed a group that was the basis of the American Association of Orthodontics. In 1901, he began the first school of orthodontics.
Advancements began to rapidly advance the new science of orthodontics in the 1900s. In the 1940′s, radiographs were used so the orthodontist could see how the bones of the face contributed to malocclusion. This technology allowed orthodontists to begin using the redirection of the growth of bones to straighten teeth. In the 1970′s, surgical techniques were developed that allowed orthodontic corrections.
But the advances of the space and computer age make the treatments of just a few decades ago seem primitive. The grandparents, or even the parents, of today’s patients wore braces so bulky and cumbersome that the term “tin grin” was used to describe them. The process of affixing these braces could take nearly a day, and the bands there were fitted around each tooth required forcing the teeth apart to put them in.
Today, brackets are bonded directly to the teeth and nickel-titanium, heat-activated, memory wires are used. There are colored braces, tooth colored braces, clear braces, even braces that aren’t braces, but clear aligners. Today, orthodontic X-rays and photographs are digital and a computer helps to generate the treatment plan that will straighten a patient’s teeth. A computer can even generate a picture of how the patient will look once his/her teeth are correctly aligned.
What would those ancient Egyptians, with their “wires” made of catgut have thought of today’s braces? And what will the archaeologists of tomorrow think of our “advancements” a thousand years from now?