I treated my first orthodontic patient back in the 1980’s, but the history of braces dates back a little earlier—actually several thousands of years earlier with the discovery by archeologists of mummified ancients with crude metal bands wrapped around individual teeth. Later in 400-500 BC, both Aristotle and Hippocrates also devised and wrote about ways to straighten crooked teeth. However, it was not until the 1700s that significant events in the field of orthodontics really developed. In 1728, French Dentist Pierre Fauchard published a book called “The Surgeon Dentist” with an entire chapter devoted to straightening teeth. He used a horseshoe-shaped piece of precious metal (somewhat similar to some of the appliances still used today) to expand the dental arches.
The term orthodontia was coined by Joachim Lafoulon in 1841, gum elastics were first employed by Maynard in 1843, Tucker was the first to cut rubber bands from rubber tubing in 1850, and in the late 1800’s, Eugene Solomon Talbot first used X-rays for orthodontic diagnosis. Norman W. Kingsley, a dentist, writer, artist, and sculptor has often been referred to as the “Father of Orthodontics.” In 1858, he wrote the first official scientific article on orthodontics, and in 1880, his book “Treatise on Oral Deformities” was published. Here in America in the early 1900s, Edward H. Angle devised the first orthodontic classification system for dentists to describe how teeth fit together. He also contributed significantly to the design of orthodontic appliances, founded the first college of orthodontics, organized the American Society of Orthodontia (which became the AAO in the 1930s), and founded the first orthodontic professional journal in 1907.
These notables were just a few of the individuals that laid the groundwork for our current practice of modern orthodontics--which I’ll address in my next blog.What did “modern” braces look like back in the early 1900s? Mostly they consisted of rings of gold, silver, platinum or steel around every single tooth together with metallic archwires and a multitude of loops, hooks, spurs and ligature ties to provide forces on the different teeth. Gold was used because it was malleable and easy to shape but it was also extremely expensive and required frequent adjustments. Nowadays, orthodontists use mainly heat-activated nickel –titanium alloy wires. These specially alloyed wires (developed by NASA) are designed specifically to deliver light and gentle forces over longer periods of time. As they warm to body temperature they become active and gradually move the teeth in the anticipated direction with fewer adjustments. The gold rings wrapping around the teeth have been replaced by direct bonding technology whereas the orthodontic brace is glued directly onto the tooth enamel with an adhesive that is hardened by a special ultraviolet light source. As a result, braces are more cosmetic, comfortable and much more patient friendly than a century ago.
As we move further into the 21st century, continued advancements are being made in the areas of digital radiography, temporary implant anchorage, self-ligating brackets, lingual orthodontics, and computerized assisted treatment planning. The advent of the Invisalign clear aligners has recently revolutionized the practice of orthodontics giving patients a “brace-free” method of developing that perfect smile. It’s certainly quite a difference from the “metal mouth” look of my first set of braces!