Our journey through the history of dentistry has reached its final chapter. Having dealt with the beginnings of the discipline by reconstructing the period from the ancient Egyptians to the Renaissance, and having then covered the period between 1700 and 1800, as well as centuries of scientific advancement and professional training in dentistry, it is now time to turn our attention to the twentieth century.
The twentieth century saw two significant advances that gave great impetus to the evolution of dentistry.
Firstly, the introduction of the ceramic dental crown, or the “capsule”, by Canadian Dr. Charles Land in 1903, who later also patented the platinum foil matrix for porcelain jacket crowns.
Two years later, in 1905, German chemist Alfred Einhorn synthesized “procaine” for the first time and gave it the commercial name “Novocaine”. This is a local anesthetic that is still commonly used in dental procedures to numb the area around a tooth. Novocaine was introduced into medical use by the surgeon Heinrich Braun.
From an academic point of view, Dr. G. V. Black stood out as a leading figure. Regarded as the founding father of “dental science”, he published the two-volume work called “Operative Dentistry” in 1908. In addition to being a dentist as well as an accomplished professor and researcher, Black contributed to the development of numerous dental innovations. He was responsible for one of the best dental amalgams available at the time, the discovery of the cause of fluorosis, as well as the invention of a foot-driven dental drill, and countless advances in restorative dentistry. However, his most important contribution (which is still used nowadays) was the development of a system to categorize carious lesions into six classes, based on the type of tooth affected and the location of the lesion.
A few years later – in 1913 – Dr. Alfred C. Fones founded the first school for dental hygienists, intending to support his program to make preventive dental care available to school children. This was a telling sign of a change in the awareness of prevention and the need to take care of one’s teeth before problems or pain arise.
The following years saw many technical innovations that greatly expanded the options for dental treatment. In fact, in 1937, the first implant was made using Vitallium screws. This is a metal alloy that is totally biocompatible and very resistant to heat as well as corrosion.
Only a year later, in 1938, the first toothbrushes with synthetic bristles were introduced to the market, followed in 1950 by the first fluoride toothpaste.
As early as the second half of the 19th century, the production of dental chairs had become almost completely industrialized. They replaced the artisan production, which until then had seen the dentists themselves design and even build the chairs, equipment, and furnishings of their practice.
The industrialization of dental chair production allowed the addition and improvement of elements such as headrests and footrests. Additionally, they introduced the ability to move the seat and backrest, making them increasingly adjustable, until the fundamental date of 1958, which set the standard for decades to come.
It was actually in that year that John Naughton of Iowa designed what is now considered the original recliner: Naughton’s chair had a break in the backrest that allowed the dentist to sit and the patient to be in a prone position at the same time. Due to its more flexible design, Naughton’s recliner was accepted as an industry standard by the dental profession.
Thanks to the new design of dental chairs, the 1960s saw the consolidation of a procedural change that, in its simplicity, had an enormous impact on the comfort and speed of treatment: it allowed dentists to work in a seated position and with “four” hands, i.e. together with the chairside assistant.
Finally, it is surprising to think that the first electric toothbrush, developed in Switzerland after the Second World War, was put on the market as early as 1960 in the United States.
The emergence of the dental hygienist was the first indicator of a paradigm shift towards greater attention to prevention. However, the appearance of the first whitening product on the American market in 1989 signaled an even further shift. The latter involved increased attention towards the aesthetic side of dental procedures as well as the health of one’s teeth.
As a result, dental procedures designed to improve the aesthetics of the mouth became increasingly popular in the 1990s, with the introduction of veneers, implants, and filling materials developed specifically for this purpose.
Even today, one of the fastest-growing trends is that of cosmetic dentistry, closely linked to the growing success of stand-alone dental chairs. Cosmetic dental treatments, indeed, do not require an entire dental unit and therefore allow a practice to diversify its services with a relatively small investment, as explained in this article.
Therefore, to summarize this historical overview, we can roughly divide the approach to dental care into three historical phases.
Following an initial period of “retrospective” dental intervention – after the onset of problems and complaints – there followed a period of increasing attention to preventive care and control, and then in recent years, there has been a focus on the more aesthetic aspects of caring for one’s teeth and mouth.
This last phase has not yet reached its conclusion and has a considerable influence on the current historical moment, which focuses (as never before) on the well-being of patients and operators from the point of view of ergonomics as well as comfort.
This highlights the fact that the needs of dentists, practitioners, and patients are a matter of constant redefinition, that requires continuous updating.
So that we may provide you with the best possible solutions in terms of equipment and more, please do not hesitate to contact us.