A Crash Course in the History of Orthodontics

image of young girl putting in retainer

At Richard Chan Orthodontics, my team and I may take a pretty high-tech approach to care and stay on top of current innovations and what’s coming in the future but we still appreciate the rich history of orthodontics. While our Seattle area, Sitka and Juneau Invisalign and braces patients are able to choose from modern treatment options at our practice, these treatments are built on some of the foundations established over centuries. Let’s dive in with a crash course in the history of orthodontics.

The Beginnings of Teeth Straightening

People have always wanted straight teeth and a beautiful smile. Egyptian mummies were found with metal bands that wrapped around their teeth. Archeologists think that catgut (a material made from animal intestines) was used with the bands to help apply pressure to the teeth in order to move them. Then, Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician. created some of the first known written records evidencing early orthodontics in 400 BC when he wrote about tooth irregularities. About 400 years later, a Roman writer named Celsus advocated using a finger to push the teeth into place. Pliny the Elder made a splash by advising filing elongated teeth to the correct size.

17th and 18th Century Smile Advances

There weren’t too many contributions to the history of orthodontics timeline in the 17th century aside from Matthaeus Gottfried Purmann doing dental impressions using wax in the 1600s. Then, in the 18th century, things picked back up again when French physician Pierre Fauchard made his debut. Sometimes called the “Father of Modern Dentistry,” he published the first comprehensive work on contemporary dentistry in 1728 called Le Chirurgien Dentiste, or The Surgeon Dentist. In the book, he described the bandeau, which was an appliance he used in his own practice to straighten patients’ teeth. It was a piece of metal shaped like a horseshoe that worked sort of like a retainer to shift the teeth and expand the palate. In 1754, Louis Bourdet, another French dentist, published The Dentist’s Art. The book had a chapter devoted to aligning the teeth. Bourdet perfected the bandeau and is thought to be the first dentist on record to suggest extracting premolars to help with crowding.

Orthodontics in the 19th Century: The Start of Modern Braces

The history of dental braces, at least ones that resemble modern day braces, really has its roots in the 19th century and orthodontics as a whole came into its own. On the orthodontic front, Joseph Fox kicked things off by classifying malocclusion in 1803 and aligning his patients’ bites with appliances. In 1841, Joachim Lefoulon coined the term “orthodontosie,” which can be roughly translated to “orthodontia.” In 1879, Norman Kingsley published the first formal text about orthodontics titled, A Treatise on Oral Deformities as a Branch of Mechanical Surgery.

Yet, the most well-known advance was Christophe-Francois Delabarre’s wire crib, which he introduced in 1815. It’s the earliest form of modern braces. During the 19th century, Dr. Edward Maynard and E.G. Tucker also helped perfect the wire crib with Tucker even using rubber bands as part of his teeth-straightening approach. In 1893, Henry A. Baker combined the different appliances and techniques inventing the “Baker Anchorage,” which relied on the use of elastics and metal to straighten teeth without extractions.

Orthodontics Evolves by Leaps and Bounds

Edward Angle is known as the “Father of Modern Orthodontics” and his contributions in the early 1900s really helped shape the history of orthodontics and mold it into the discipline it is today. He was a proponent of separating orthodontics from dentistry and creating an entirely distinct branch of dentistry. In fact, he opened the first school of orthodontics. Now, orthodontists would focus solely on preventing, diagnosing and treating malocclusion, or problems with the bite, instead of being jacks of all trades. Angle was staunchly against extractions and partly because of him, dentists and orthodontists stopped pulling teeth as a matter of routine. Angle also popularized the idea of aesthetics in orthodontics and was devoted to creating, “the best balance, the best harmony, the best proportions of the mouth.” As if he weren’t busy enough, Angle also invented a number of appliances, such as the edgewise appliance, which featured archwires and brackets.

Another prominent orthodontist at the time was Dr. Calvin Case. He and Angle were not the best of friends and debated frequently about extractions in the teeth-straightening process. In spite of the disagreements, Case also had some major contributions, including recommending patients wear a retainer after treatment to maintain their results.

While all of these advancements were going on, any discussion on the history of dental braces should note that even in the early 20th century, braces were expensive. They were crafted from gold or silver and the brackets were secured by wrapping  wire around each individual tooth. Therefore, they weren’t all that comfortable and people couldn’t afford them. Yet, by the 1970s, with stainless steel brackets replacing precious metals and the advent of dental adhesives, the cost plummeted and orthodontic treatment became much more commonplace. Around this time, the first self-ligating brackets and lingual braces both entered the picture though it would be years before they became mainstream.

Some current trends in orthodontics are actually rooted in the late 20th century, such as heat-activated, nickel-titanium braces wires. These wires, which apply gentler forces over time and require fewer adjustments, actually come from material developed by NASA. In another space-age turn of events, a company associated with NASA invented the first ceramic brackets in 1987.

The 20th century wrapped up with one last huge breakthrough. In 1997, Zia Chishti founded Align Technology. He created the first design for Invisalign and in 1999, the treatment began being sold in North America. In the 21st century, Invisalign saw further tweaks, such as the use of its SmartTrack™ material and the creation of Invisalign Teen, allowing us to treat a wide range of cases with clear aligners.

By understanding the history of orthodontics and looking to the future, I’m able to stay ahead of the curve and give my patients the most effective and comfortable treatment possible. To find out more, book a free consultation at Richard Chan Orthodontics today!

 

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