History of Dentures | A Walk Back Through Time

Even though the modern set of dentures were invented early in the 1800s, mankind has always needed false teeth. Coincidentally, the time when dentures were needed the most was because of the growth in dental problems due to the rapidly increasing consumption of sugar. Between 1860 and 1890, the sugar consumption of British people rose by 500%. And with that, the demand for dentures has, of course, risen. Lets go through the history of dentures.

history of dentures

The History of Dentures

While the pair of dentures we have come to know originally came to existence in the 1800s, civilizations have been finding replacements for teeth from as far back as 1500 B.C. The history of dentures can be traced back to the Egyptians who would try to create dentures by collecting human teeth and threading them together with gold wire. This would create a functioning set of teeth which would replace real ones. Italians have also been known to use this technique in 700 B.C.

Ancient tribes in Mexico would use animal teeth, mostly wolves, to replace their missing set. Interestingly, they wouldn’t use gold wire or any form of material to hold the teeth together. Rather they would just insert the tooth into the empty socket and it would hold.

After looking back into the history of dentures, the Japanese were known to create the earliest pair of modern dentures using wood. The set can be traced back to a temple in the Kii province and is said to be worn by the temple’s priestess, Nakaoka Tei. The dentures had the same shape as the modern ones we make today and are sucked into the mouth to keep from falling out. Japan made wooden dentures for teeth replacement up until the 19th century.

The ancient Mayan civilization would use rocks or bones to fill in their missing teeth. Around 600 A.D., the civilization tried to replace their teeth with carved stones, bits of bone and seashell fragments. Surprisingly, this method worked well for them because the material would fuse with their jawbone permanently.

In 1700 America, ivory dentures were popular. These would be made from materials such as walrus, elephant or hippopotamus tusk. The first President of the United States, George Washington, actually wore dentures all his life. Contrary to popular belief in the history of dentures, his dentures were not wooden; rather, he wore some of the finest ivory dentures made from hippopotamus tusk. He would still have to adjust it quite frequently for it to function properly.

A disturbing bump in the history of dentures occurred in Belgium in the 1800s. Back then, missing teeth would be replaced by real teeth. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces faced off the Prussian and British forces, the terrible loss resulted in the death of fifty-thousand young soldiers. Since there was such a demand for teeth, the fallen soldier’s teeth would be extracted and imported in barrels to England. They were then used by thousands of Englishmen. Dentists would mold the teeth into a base made of ivory. These were so popular, they became a status symbol and were in high demand. The demand for dentures made from dead soldiers continued into America’s Civil War. These dentures were so popular that grave robbers would sometimes provide them, or they would be extracted from executed criminals. The destitute would also sell their teeth to feed themselves.

The first porcelain dentures came to be in 1774 by a British physician named Alexis Duchateau. He created the first porcelain dentures in existence. The cons were that porcelain dentures would chip very often and would look unnaturally white. In 1791 his former apprentice Nicholas Dubois De Chemant patented the product and marketed them to patients the following year. In 1820, a silversmith named Claudius Ash had mounted porcelain onto gold plates with springs and swivels. This turned the tide in the evolution of dentures because they looked and worked far better than the older models.

Obviously, not everyone could afford to wear porcelain, which is why Ash made a set made from hardened rubber, or vulcanite. The soft, rubbery texture of vulcanite made it easier for patients to wear comfortable dentures. The material would be molded after the tooth it was replacing and then hardened. These brought the first generation of comfortable dentures which would fit better. Hardened vulcanite would be reddish brown and so, for aesthetic purposes, the teeth and gums of the denture would be made from porcelain and then colored to look more lifelike.

After the 1850s, Claudius Ash and his company Ash & Sons was the leading manufacturer of vulcanized dentures. They also produced dental plates made of silver and vulcanite and metal insets to firmly fix single false tooth. They sold dental strengtheners made of aluminum and gold mesh and used fillings made of silicate cement. This was very effective until the 20th century, when acrylic resin and other such plastic materials became better choices.

In 1952, an orthopedic surgeon from Sweden, Per-Ingvar Branemark found that he could not remove a titanium cylinder which he had inserted in a rabbit’s leg. He found it impossible to remove because the titanium had melded with the bone. You might remember the Mayans and their curious mix of stones, bones and seashell which would fuse into the jaw. The phenomena was unheard of in the medical world and Branemark had coined the term osseointegration. In fact, titanium has a remarkable ability to fuse into human bone which created a vast new arena for dentistry which went beyond dentures and removable prosthetics. Now began the use of dental implants with titanium. These were fashioned out of a tooth’s circumference but had varying lengths according to the person’s mouth. This also brought along the use of machinery which was needed to smoothen and polish the surface of the implants so that they were easier to wear. However, today, modern dental implants have intentionally roughened edges to allow the implant’s surface area to meld itself to the jaw faster.

While the history of dentures is certainly interesting, the possibilities in the future are even more fascinating. Dentists are finding better ways to replace fillings and materials. Truly, dentures have come a long way from wolves teeth and bits of bones. Today, they are made so that you don’t have any problem functioning with false teeth. So, if you are missing a few teeth, talk to your dentist. You will definitely find something which will improve your dental health.

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