The Indus Valley Civilization has yielded evidence of dentistry being practiced as far back as 7000 BC. This earliest form of dentistry involved curing tooth related disorders with bow-drills operated, perhaps, by skilled bead craftsmen. The reconstruction of this ancient form of dentistry showed that the methods used were reliable and effective.
A Sumerian text from 5000 BC describes a “tooth worm” as the cause of dental caries. Evidence of this belief has also been found in ancient India, Egypt, Japan and China. The legend of the worm is also found in the writings of Homer, and as late as the 14th century AD the surgeon Guy de Chauliac still promoted the belief that worms cause tooth decay.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus, written in the 17th century BC but which may reflect previous manuscripts from as early as 3000 BC, includes the treatment of several dental ailments. In the 18th century BC, the Code of Hammurabi referenced dental extraction twice as it related to punishment. Examination of the remains of some ancient Egyptians and Greco-Romans reveals early attempts at dental prosthetics and surgery.
Ancient Greek scholars Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry, including the eruption pattern of teeth, treating decayed teeth and gum disease, extracting teeth with forceps, and using wires to stabilize loose teeth and fractured jaws. Some say the first use of dental appliances or bridgescomes from the Etruscans from as early as 700 BC. Further research suggested that 3000 B.C. In ancient Egypt, Hesi-Re is the first named “dentist” (greatest of the teeth). The Egyptians bind replacement teeth together with gold wire. Roman medical writer Cornelius Celsus wrote extensively of oral diseases as well as dental treatments such as narcotic-containing emollients and astringents.
Historically, dental extractions have been used to treat a variety of illnesses. During the Middle Ages and throughout the 19th century, dentistry was not a profession in itself, and often dental procedures were performed by barbers or general physicians. Barbers usually limited their practice to extracting teeth which alleviated pain and associated chronic tooth infection. Instruments used for dental extractions date back several centuries. In the 14th century, Guy de Chauliac invented the dental pelican (resembling a pelican’s beak) which was used up until the late 18th century. The pelican was replaced by the dental key which, in turn, was replaced by modern forceps in the 20th century.
The first book focused solely on dentistry was the “Artzney Buchlein” in 1530, and the first dental textbook written in English was called “Operator for the Teeth” by Charles Allen in 1685.It was between 1650 and 1800 that the science of modern dentistry developed. It is said that the 17th century French physician Pierre Fauchard started dentistry science as we know it today, and he has been named “the father of modern dentistry”. Among many of his developments were the extensive use of dental prosthesis, the introduction of dental fillings as a treatment for dental caries and the statement that sugar derivative acids such as tartaric acid are responsible for dental decay.
Where I grew up we all had such good teeth that a dentist could not make a living. It had something to do with the water, they said. So all through my childhood I did not see a dentist’s chair although later in life it became my destiny.
I always had a sweet tooth as the saying goes. I loved eating all kinds of sweets, and copious amounts of sugar over my porridge as I still do though these days I have reduced the intake of sweet things. After leaving school and going into the big wide world I started drinking beer en wines and eating chocolates. I also developed a nasty habit of biting bottle-tops off beer bottles! This was in the days long before screw top or twist top bottles were around. Still, my teeth held out. Then one day my Wisdom Teeth started hurting and I made arrangements to have them out. Wow, my face swelled up and looked like a pumpkin at Halloween, but it settled down again after a few days and I survived. I was in my twenties when I had to go a dentist proper for the first time. Had some tooth decay. He repaired the tooth.
Then I didn’t see a dentist until I was in my mid 40’s when I started having problems. The trouble was that my bottom teeth were grinding into my top teeth and wearing them away. Apparently I grind my teeth when I sleep. But I have never noticed. I had a plate made that I wore to prevent my teeth from doing the grinding and it worked well.
And then, on another visit to the dentist, when my regular dentist was away, I met this young dentist who said that he could fix all of my problems and I listened keenly. He said that he would drill tiny holes in what was left of my upper teeth and then insert miniature steel pylons and then build each tooth up and that should be fine and all for a cool Thousand Dollars. It was expensive in those days but it was a means to an end and I went ahead with it. He did a great job.
My teeth lasted about ten years before cracks in the workmanship, pun intended, started appearing. We were on the road at that stage travelling the eastern states making and selling craft items. We lived in a large caravan and did all our business out of there stopping in isolated places while working at our craft. It was a good life for 5 years but my teeth started giving me trouble. Every now and then I would hear a ‘crack’ and a tooth would split in have or a bit would break off. I started cursing that young dentist who drilled all of the holes in my teeth. Most likely than not, we would be in some isolated place, hundreds of kilometers from the nearest dentist. So I resorted to self-extraction using my fencing pliers or my curved pliers if the tooth would be troublesome. We always kept a few bottles of Whiskey on hand for ‘medicinal purposes’. I would wash my mouth and the pliers out with whiskey and then swallow a few swigs just to calm the nerves and then get to work on the troublesome tooth.
One day, whilst camped at Carmilla Beach on the Queensland Coast, I needed to get to a back tooth. So I erected a camping table and used two mirrors to see into my mouth using the direct sunlight reflection to put a good bit of light in that dark place. The tooth was very stubborn. I had borrowed an extra set of pliers from a camper nearby and had all my tools at hand. Where I was sitting was adjacent to a car park and during the course of my workings a group of European Tourists stopped and were having lunch in the shade of a tree nearby. The curiosity got the better of one of the ladies and she marched over to ask me, in a heavy French accent, just what I was doing. I explained my predicament to her and told her that I was busy extracting a troublesome tooth. She gave an exclamation and then ran back to her group chattering in a loud voice and pointing at me. After about an hour I was victorious and gave them all the thumbs up!
One day in our travels we were visiting friends in Woomera. There an abscessed tooth came to the fore. Our hosts told us of a dentist at Roxby Downs Mining Town and after a phone call the following morning we had secured an appointment within the hour. They treated my condition as serious and off we went. Now I have to explain at this juncture that in later years my teeth seemed to fuse with my jawbone and that you have to a strong and adept dentist to remove one of my teeth. My heart sank when I saw that the dentist was a wisp of a girl. I asked if there may be someone within the dental practice who would be strong enough to remove one of my teeth. As per usual the young lady exuded confidence that she was up to the task, and that I was not to worry. Well, it took her an hour to remove the troublesome tooth, and that with two dentals nurses holding my head still. We were all exhausted after the ordeal!
And so, by the time we had bought our present house and had settled down again at around the turn of the century, I had extracted six of my own teeth. The trouble is that small bits of tooth and some root systems remained behind and were starting to give me trouble again. This time we had ourselves added to the Dental Care list for Pensioners and I began my visits to the Dental Clinic at the regional centre of Port Pirie, 110km in distance from us. There the Chief Dentist shook his head in dismay after examining the remaining inhabitants of my gums stating that much work had to be done. He suggested that a tooth be removed but that as I had run out of allotted time for that day, that I make an appointment for the next week. And so I did. But on that visit and after an hour of trying to extract the tooth, he gave up, giving me some painkillers and making an appointment for the following week. The tooth came out on the second attempt after seven painkilling and one relaxant injection. It took an hour and twenty minutes to remove the tooth. Eventually this dentist gave up on me and stated that he would write a letter of recommendation to the Departmental Head of the Adelaide Dental Hospital, at Frome Street, Adelaide, for further evaluation.
At this hallowed institution I was to become a guinea pig for overseas students training in Australia to become good dentists! I drove the five hundred kilometre return journey no less than thirteen times in two years. The Chief Dentist had the thought that my jaw structure was an interesting case study. At one stage I had to have a tooth removed and once again I was confronted by a wisp of a girl who stated that she was a qualified dentist and that I should not worry and just relax. After an hour of struggling to remove the offending tooth she called a superior dentist in who became irritated with me and my remarks and yanked the tooth out giving me great pain. I came close to strangling that fellow. Then the big boss dentist decided that I may have to have surgery to my jawbone and referred me to a Dental Specialist. This fellow was quite keen to hack into my bone structure but upon inspection suggested that I might have Polyps in my mouth and that I might have Polyps elsewhere and so I had better have that checked out first. On top of all these things happening I was due to have a Total Knee Replacement in a couple of months’ time and so it wasn’t long before I was booked in for an endoscopy and a colonoscopy at the same time. They found nothing of the sort inside me. The ‘polyps’ in my mouth turned out to be something else and not harmful at all. By the time I had recovered from my knee surgery and I had had second thoughts about jaw surgery and decided to give it a miss. By this time my mouth was in a mess so to speak. The Adelaide Dental Hospital made a partial denture for me and sent me on my way. The denture lasted two weeks before it broke. So I posted it back to the Hospital and it was repaired within a month and then it broke again and then I decided to see a Denture Specialist in Port Pirie. And this bloke sorted out all of my problems by making proper partial dentures for me which have worked very well since 2006.
Four years of tooth heaven followed that year and now the circle is complete again and I am back at the dentist. Recently I needed another extraction and went to see the ‘Butcher of Belalie’ as I call that practice. The dental clinic lies on the banks of Belalie Creek. And lo and behold, this time a young male dentist with skinny arms was to be my tooth mechanic. I told him……………..but he assured me………..and one hour and sixteen minutes later the tooth was out and I was exhausted. Soon after, there was a follow up visit, and I told the young fellow that I would grab hold of his arm, and break it if he hurt me. He was ever so careful!
Another year has passed and I am back at the dentists again. This time I am going for an evaluation for what will need to be done…………………………..
2013 came and went and another extraction was necessary. This time I was at a dentistry in Port Augusta where I was once again confronted by a slip of a girl. I told her my tale of woe and of dentists nit being strong enough to fight my jawbone. She assured me that her techniques were new and that she could perform the job in no time at all.I was unsure but to her credit she removed the offending tooth within two minutes flat! Wow!
2014 is at an end and I have had no tooth problems so to speak apart from a filling that has fallen out of a loose tooth. I am on the Waiting List for action…waiting….waiting….waiting…..
to be continued