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The History of Braces

traditional bracesWhen most people hear the term “braces,” they think of traditional metal braces, Invisalign, or the bulky headgear that you see dramatized in movies. People assume that braces are a recent invention, existing for maybe the past 60 years or so. While modern orthodontics are a whole different ball game, some forms of braces date back to ancient times. And cultural notions about crooked teeth have existed for even longer. This is Dr. Stephen Grussmark, blogging from my Brickell location, and today, we’re going to discuss the history of braces and crooked teeth.

Early Orthodontics & Notions of Crooked Teeth

Some of the earliest mentions of crooked teeth date back to 350 B.C. in writings by Hippocrates. The concept that crooked teeth can be terrible for your health isn’t a new one. In Hippocrates’s early writing, he talked about people with irregular arches in their mouth, and how crowded teeth cause headaches and discharge in the ear. A Roman physician, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, was privy to the pain of crooked teeth, so he advised parents to apply pressure with their fingers to their children’s new teeth to promote them growing in straight.

Prior to the Roman mentions of straightening teeth, Egyptians were using catgut wires to close the gaps in their teeth. Archaeologists found Egyptian mummies dating back to 1600 BC with gold bands wrapped around their teeth. They also found remains of the Estruscans civilization that would actually put gold bridges over the mouths of the deceased to straighten their teeth for their burial rituals. It’s interesting that even around 770-270 BC, cultures were concerned with the physical appearance of the teeth.

Finally, in 1728, the French dentist, Pierre Fauchard, created the first set of somewhat modern braces. He used pieces of gold, which he would fasten around a patient’s mouth with silk wires. Fauchard was the first dentist to say that braces could be used to straighten out teeth. He also noted that children’s teeth could be rehabilitated much easier than adults, because their teeth roots were smaller. They called his orthodontic device a “Bandeau,” which was primarily used to make patient’s arches wider. Fauchard was also an early pioneer of dental prosthesis, using ivory bone to replace lost teeth.

Around the time that Fauchard was practicing dentistry, the desire for straight teeth was taking hold amongst the wealthy in the U.S. and Europe. King George the Third’s dentist, Thomas Berdmore wrote about the medical and social advantages of straight teeth. He was one of the first to forthright claim that straight teeth made people look healthier, younger, helped people chew, and improved a person’s ability to enunciate words correctly. It’s even believed that painters throughout history would use crooked teeth as a metaphor to portray moral depravity.

It wasn’t until around the early 1900s that the word “braces” was coined. During this era, most of the dentists would make their braces wires out of 14 or 18 karat gold. Although, some dentists during this time would skimp and use wood or ivory to execute their makeshift form of orthodontics. In fact, people’s desire for straight teeth took hold before society even figured out proper dental hygiene. Early versions of braces were developed before the first modern toothbrush hit the market, which wasn’t until 1938.

In the early 20th century, Edward Angle created 37 patents of tools used to treat abnormal bites. Often, these tools were metal appliances used to expand arches. Most people claim that these were the blueprint for the metal braces that we see today. During this time, other orthodontists would buy Angle’s inventions to use on their patients. These were more of a “one size fits all” treatment, so they weren’t entirely effective.

Over time, we’ve seen culture adopt confident straight smiles by featuring them on advertisements and in the media, making orthodontists strive harder for more effective solutions. With today’s orthodontics, we rely on individual diagnosis to create personalized treatment plans to help improve dental health and smile appearance. To take the appearance aspect of braces one step further, Invisalign hit the market. Invisalign is currently the evolutionary pinnacle of orthodontics, making straight teeth even more available than ever before.

Invisalign was invented in 1997, by two people who used 3-d computer technology to create clear, plastic retainers to straighten crowding in the teeth. Unlike the harsh orthodontics of the past, Invisalign straightens teeth without the need for unsightly wires and abrasive brackets.  Invisalign conveniently brought straight teeth to people of all ages in any professional field. Invisalign technologically goes beyond other orthodontic treatments and gets better every day.

As you can see, braces have come a long way since gold wires in ancient Egypt. I’m eager to see where Invisalign will go next. Stay tuned into my blog to learn more about orthodontics, straight teeth, and the Invisalign system.


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