Modern orthodontics is increasingly high-tech, with innovations like digital imaging, 3D oral scanners, and computer modeling combining with various treatment options to give patients a more efficient and successful orthodontic experience. Given how cutting-edge most practices are these days, you may be surprised to learn that humans have been trying to straighten their smiles for thousands of years! Multiple archaeological finds have shown us that primitive versions of orthodontic treatment existed, with some of the earliest attempts involving “techniques” like bloodletting and materials like catgut and crude metals. (Yes, catgut is exactly what it sounds like.) When you consider the leeches and possibility of blood poisoning, today’s braces seem like a walk in the park!

When you invest in orthodontic treatment now, you’ll generally be given the opportunity to choose a treatment that best fits your specific case, your lifestyle, and your goals. Here at Sawgrass Orthodontics, we’re proud to offer traditional metal braces, as well as aesthetic options like Invisalign clear aligners and clear braces. While we love modern orthodontics, it can still be fun to look back at where it all began. Below we’re going to take a look at what those first few centuries of orthodontics looked like, and how it evolved into the treatments we’re able to employ today!

B.C. to the 18th century

If you know where to look, you can find cultural and social concerns about crooked teeth going way back to the ancient Egyptians. Mummies have been found with gold bands around their teeth, and researchers believe that these may have been used in conjunction with catgut to close dental gaps. There are also multiple mentions of dental disorders in some of the earliest medical writings, with special notations describing the smaller jaws and narrower dental arches that humans evolved with.

Are you familiar with the Hippocratic oath? As early as 400 B.C., its namesake Hippocrates was writing about his suspicions that irregular palate arches and crowded teeth could cause a number of corresponding issues, like headaches and discharge from the ears. And in an effort to move children’s teeth into better positions, Roman physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus encouraged caregivers to apply daily pressure to new teeth with their fingers. Aside from these interesting attempts at tooth alignment, there wasn’t much happening in orthodontics for a long while. Then a flurry of development occurred in the 18th century, and things got pretty exciting!

18th-century breakthroughs

The new interest that developed during this time period resulted in some very important orthodontic discoveries. Pierre Fauchard was an 18th-century French physician who is sometimes referred to as the “father of modern dentistry” thanks to the role he played in contemporary dental and orthodontic treatment. When he began keeping his patients’ dentures in place by anchoring them to molars, he inadvertently discovered one of the basic principles of braces. He also developed a number of other techniques for straightening teeth, including filing down teeth that jutted too far above the adjacent teeth, and using a set of metal forceps he called a “pelican” to create space between crowded teeth.

Fauchard is probably best known for his invention of what could be considered the first orthodontic appliance: the bandeau. This was a horseshoe-shaped piece of metal that was placed outside the teeth. String or wire was then used to tie the teeth to the arch. The bandeau was meant to expand a person’s dental arch without necessarily straightening each tooth, and the basics of it were actually similar to modern braces, since it also relied on slow, steady pressure to move teeth gradually. However, the bandeau wasn’t able to make any adjustments, which made it difficult to move individual teeth in different directions.

As basic as it was, the bandeau was in continuous use up until about 1819, when Christophe-François Delabarre developed the wire crib. As the name implies, this appliance was usually made of metal wires that had been bent and soldered together to form a “cage” that fit tightly over and around the teeth. Strings or metal springs could then be attached and used to apply a constant force to teeth, gradually moving them into better positions. Because the wire crib worked in much the same way our current braces and aligners do, its invention is generally regarded as the birth of contemporary orthodontics. In fact, it’s the precursor to many of the appliances we use even today.

Modern orthodontics meets the United States

Edward Angle was an American pioneer in what he called tooth “regulation.” By the early 20th century, he had been awarded over 30 patents for a variety of tools that he used to treat misalignments of the teeth and jaws. This included a metallic arch expander and the “edgewise appliance,” a metal bracket that is the basis for most of the braces we use today. This intrepid entrepreneur sold all of these standardized parts together as the “Angle system,” which other orthodontists could purchase and use in their own practices. This meant practitioners no longer needed to design and produce appliances for each new patient.

There were a number of other significant orthodontic contributions at this time, including:

  • The “occipital anchorage” was an early form of headgear developed by J.S. Gunnell in 1822 to exert gentle pressure on the teeth.
  • Vulcanized rubber was invented by Charles Goodyear in 1839, and within a few years, American dentist E.G. Tucker had begun to use it in orthodontic appliances.
  • “The Dental Art” was written and published by Chapin A. Harris in 1840. This was the first classic book on dentistry, and outlined a number of innovative practices, such as soldering knobs on bands to assist with tooth rotation, and applying gold caps to molars to open the dental bite.

Over the next century, dentists and early orthodontists continued making huge strides in understanding how the teeth and jaws work. However, braces themselves remained more or less unchanged during this time. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that there were any new, significant advances! At this point, stainless steel began to replace gold and silver as the most popular choice for wires thanks to its shapeability. Dental adhesives were also invented, allowing orthodontists to stick brackets to the surface of the teeth rather than winding wires around each tooth to anchor the brackets. Both of these developments significantly reduced the cost of braces, making them more widely available than they had ever been before.

Find your smile’s place in history with Sawgrass Orthodontics

When we look back through orthodontic history, we can see that through the centuries, humans have strived to find the best way to straighten smiles and align the teeth and jaws. We have the same goal now as we did back then! Sawgrass Orthodontics is proud to be part of such an established tradition of creating healthy, functional smiles for patients. To learn more about how modern orthodontics can benefit you and your family, get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation at our Sunrise office.

- Dr. Langford

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