It may surprise you to know that our wonderful Dr. Brunacini loves to learn about teeth! Not just as a dentist, but also as an anthropologist… Dr. Brunacini is fascinated by the field of Dental Anthropology. We had to get to the root of the matter, so we’re kicking off Part 1 of an interview series with Professor Brunacini to learn more about the history of our teeth and Dental Anthropology.
What is Dental Anthropology?
Dr. Bruncaini: Dental anthropology is a branch of physical anthropology that focuses on the development, evolution, and variability of teeth and related orofacial structures. In other words, it’s about the history of teeth in humans. What more could a dentist ask for in a field of study?
What interests you about this field?
Dr. Brunacini: A lot! By learning about how structures in the mouth form, we can learn how we are related to other animals. We can also learn about the history of different cultures throughout time. For example, we can learn about the foods they ate or how healthy they were overall.
What is something that surprised or fascinated you in your research?
Dr. Brunacini: I had no idea how long basic dentistry has been around. There is a record of beeswax dental fillings from 6500 years ago! It is incredible to witness the drive of humans to innovate and try to improve their well being by using their environment. This is something we still do today.
Where can people learn more?
Dr. Brunacini: People who are interested in learning more can visit The Dental Anthropology Association website. It’s a great resource. Or patients can feel free to ask me more at their next appointment!
Thank you, Dr. Brunacini!
We’ll continue this exploration and delve a little deeper into this interesting topic in the coming months. If you have a question about dental anthropology or need to schedule your next appointment please give us a call at 207.781.5900.
Are you the type of person who gets excited or nervous before your dentist appointment with Dr. Brunacini, Dr. Karagiorgos, or Dr. Smith? Although it’s completely normal to have a few butterflies before you sit in the exam chair, you should be excited that you’re not sitting in a dental office in 1720–you might not have had any teeth when you left! At FDA, we are committed to patient comfort no matter the century. But what was it like being a patient of dentists 100, 200, or even 300 years ago? Let’s take a look!
1720: Fake Smiles
The 1700’s saw the first professionals trained in the treatment of teeth. However, a combination of disease, high-sugar diets, and very few fresh fruits and vegetables meant most people suffered from slow and painful tooth decay and loss. Because of this, 18th century dentists were focused on tooth extraction and not tooth preservation.
The tools used for extracting teeth were not elegant–and anesthetic technology had yet to be invented. Forceps, pliers, hot coals, and string were all common tools of the dental trade. In fact, specially-trained dentists only serviced the wealthy; middle and lower class folks frequently visited their local blacksmith if they had a toothache.
With tooth loss running rampant, false teeth were extremely common. Ivory and porcelain were popular materials for making a set of false teeth– but nothing could beat genuine human teeth! It was common practice to pay people (especially children and teenagers) for their teeth. Although it seems incredible now, during a time when poverty was common, a penny for an incisor or molar was a tempting offer for many people!
1820: Comfortably Numb
Three important scientific discoveries during the 19th century propelled dentistry towards the science and practice of preserving smiles.
American dentist Horace Wells first applied the anesthetic effects of nitrous oxide in a tooth extraction, leading to more comfortable dental visits and pioneering other anesthetic techniques.
A few states away, Charles Goodyear was experimenting with techniques to make a flexible rubber, which he called Vulcanite. Dentist Thomas W. Evans took Goodyear’s vulcanite and created a rubberized denture–a much more cost effective option compared to ivory or porcelain. Dr. Evans eventually created a set of vulcanite dentures for Mr. Goodyear.
Last but certainly not least, 19th century microbiologist Dr. Willoughby D. Miller was the first dentist to suggest that bacteria in the mouth was to blame for tooth decay. So began the never-ending fight against cavities!
1920: Setting the Standard
The 19th century laid the groundwork for the modern practice of dentistry, and the 20th century continued to build on that foundation.
The use of x-ray technology on teeth affirmed dentistry’s commitment to tooth preservation. Dr. Frederick McKay devoted his dental practice to the study of fluoride’s effects on enamel health–ultimately leading to the fluoridation of city water across the United States.
Dental schools took definite shape in the 20th century; the American Dental Association started the practice of formal licensure for clinics and practice; modern dental tools such as tarter scrapers and removers were invented and standardized across the practice.
2020: Helping Hands
As you can see, the 21st century is the best place to be when it comes to dental care. The largest shift from the 20th to the 21st century was the introduction of dental hygienists as integral members of the dental practice.
We are grateful for our incredible team of hygienists, they help us provide you with the best oral health care. We’re also happy that all of our dentists are kind, talented, and trained medical professionals–not blacksmiths with pliers and a spare moment! We pride ourselves on providing not just great dentistry, but compassionate and stress-free oral health care!
We look forward to seeing you at your next 21st century dentist appointment. Be sure to read through our COVID Protocol page to make sure that you’re prepared for your appointment!