Before the 1990s, there wasn’t even a phrase for what we now call “cosmetic dentistry.” But as early as 700 B.C., evidence suggests that humans have been concerned with the appearance of their smile. Though they most likely didn’t work in practices that resemble mine, the advances that lead to modern dental procedures resulted from centuries of doctors developing new ways to enhance a smile.
It began with crudely jamming bone and ivory into the gums to mimic the look of natural human teeth. This practice developed over time to include wood, metal, and even other human teeth. But these solutions all resulted in severe discomfort and rotting gums. By 200 A.D., humans turned to toothpaste for cosmetic dentistry. Egyptians used pumice and vinegar, and the Romans even used urine to clean their teeth. This strange practice continued into the 1800s, and while I wouldn’t recommend it, the ammonia present in urine actually acts as a natural whitening agent.
As humanity advanced into the 1400s, it became common for barbers to perform acid washings and teeth fillings. Though they were banned from surgery, barbers continued this routine until it became clear that coating anything in acid eventually corrodes it. Though I know that sounds very unhygienic, the use of acid laid the groundwork for modern carbamide peroxide in modern cosmetic dentistry whitening.
In the 1800s, the first functional dentures hit the market. It began with porcelain and within 50 years advanced to the more comfortable Vulcanite rubber. By the 1900s, mass-produced dentures utilized acrylic, which we still use today. Around this time, things began to speed up. In the 1930s, the invention of temporary veneers aided mostly movie stars, but much later a permanent version became more common.
It wasn’t until the late 1900s that the biggest advances took place. Teeth whitening moved from chemical treatment to laser-assisted procedures that took only an hour. Now the world of cosmetic dentistry involves direct implants for missing teeth and more permanent, comfortable surgeries that dramatically lengthen the life of the human tooth.
From wooden teeth to laser treatments, cosmetic dentistry has developed to better address the appearance of a smile as well as the health of the patient. With new technological advances creating more efficient tools and processes, the future of cosmetic procedures is exciting and bright.