The History of Braces (and Why Today’s are So Awesome)

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Young woman portrait with dental braces

Braces are more historic than you might think. Humans have been obsessed with perfect smiles since way back in Ancient Egypt. Of course, the braces we use today are a far cry from prehistoric orthodontics – but taking a look at how braces have evolved shows just how impressive our own technologies really are.

Get a primer on the history of orthodontic treatment by checking out some key milestones below – and be sure to read to the end for some info on why we think modern braces are pretty great for patients.

Ancient Orthodontic Treatment

Archaeologists have evidence of crude braces dating back to Ancient Egypt. Some Egyptian mummies have metal bands around their teeth – experts believe that catgut (animal intestines) may have been used as archwires to place pressure on the teeth and move them into new positions.

The Ancient Greeks, Etruscans and Romans also practiced orthodontics to some extent. The Etruscans used gold bands on teeth as a part of a burial ritual, hoping to preserve the bite after death. Hippocrates recorded the first known description of an irregular bite around 400 B.C. Celsus, a Roman writer living 400 years later, also wrote about crooked teeth. He posited that people should regularly push on emerging teeth to guide them into proper positions. Pliny the Elder wrote about filing teeth to proper sizes just a little later.

Braces in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Matthaus Gottfried Purmann began using wax to take dental impressions around the turn of the 17th century. In 1756, Phillip Pfaff used plaster to create more stable impressions.

Pierre Fauchard, who was born in 1728 and regarded as the father of dentistry, created an appliance called a bandeau. This was a piece of metal shaped like a horseshoe, with evenly spaced holes throughout. The holes fit around teeth to help “correct” their alignment. Fauchard also performed operations in which he used a set of forceps to realign teeth (ouch), tying them to adjacent teeth so that they would heal in place.

Later in the 18th century, Christophe-François Delabarre used threads or wooden wedges to attempt to separate crowded teeth and create more room for teeth to spread out.

19th Century Orthodontics in the U.S.

As time went on, orthodontics began moving closer to the field that we practice today. In 1822, J.S. Gunnell created the occipital anchorage. This is a form of headgear that fastens to the jaw to place consistent pressure on the teeth.

The year 1840 saw publication of the first classic book on dentistry, called “The Dental Art.” This tome described methods like soldering knobs on bands to accomplish tooth rotation, and applying gold caps to molars to improve the bite. With vulcanized rubber being invented in 1839, this became the perfect opportunity for it to impact the burgeoning orthodontic field.

From The 20th Century up to Today’s Braces

We’ve mentioned the Father of Dentistry, but what about the Father of Modern Orthodontics? That title goes to Edward Hartley Angle. He not only detailed the correct components of a malocclusion, but created effective orthodontic appliances to address misalignment, starting in 1880. At this point, dentists and orthodontists alike began taking steps to properly treat crooked teeth, as opposed to relying on methods that might prove harmful to the patient.

There was another huge paradigm shift in the 1970s. Before this decade, orthodontists anchored brackets to teeth by winding wires around each tooth. But with the advent of dental adhesives, they could instead glue brackets to tooth surfaces, making braces much simpler and less bulky. Stainless steel also became the preferred orthodontic material (instead of gold and silver), which made braces far more affordable. The 1970s also saw the introduction of lingual (tongue-facing) braces.

Of course, aesthetically ideal orthodontics have come a long way since then. With options like ceramic brackets and clear plastic aligners, teenage and adult patients can straighten their teeth without broadcasting treatment to the world.

Obviously, we’re no longer using blocks of wood or animal intestines to straighten teeth (thank goodness). But there’s a larger, more important way that orthodontic treatment has changed – and a direction in which we’re continuing to head.

Treatment is becoming more and more comfortable, affordable and manageable for patients. No matter their age, orthodontic patients can be confident that they’re able to make it through braces without too much stress, and have the tools they need to maintain their newly straightened smiles for the rest of their lives. When you consider the progress that the orthodontic field has made in just the last 50 years, it’s exciting to consider what might be ahead!

If you’re interested in learning more about your child’s or your own prospective orthodontic treatment, we’re here to help. Simply schedule a complimentary consultation with our team to get started.

Oak Lawn Braces | Orthodontist Oak Lawn | Oak Lawn Orthodontist
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