Welcome to You Ask Andy

Sara Bruno, age 12, of Nashua, N.H., for her question:


Dentistry is the science of treating diseases of the teeth. Prehistoric man was actually the first to use dentistry. He used both magic and medicine to treat the pain that was occasionally caused by his teeth.

Both the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians left written records of their methods of treating dental problems.

Greek texts written about 600 B.C. included references to teething problems. But the first gold dental bridges are older than the Greek texts. These bridges, which show much technical skill, have been found in the ruins of the ancient Etruscan civilization in Italy.

Dentistry as a science was slow to develop. During the Middle Ages, barbers also served as dentists and doctors. And jewelers and other craftsmen made dentures.

It was not until 1840 that dentistry actually became a profession. In that year, the first dental school was organized in Baltimore, Md.

Since 1849, dentistry has made important progress in the United States. Gold foil was first used in that year as a filling for teeth. Then the discovery of the X ray came in 1895. This important piece of equipment gave dentists a way to look inside teeth to discover their defects.

In 1910, Sir William Hunter and Sir Kenneth Goodby of England discovered that infected teeth could cause infection to spread through the entire body.

Discovery of the use of anesthesia also provided dentistry with an important step forward. On Dec. 11, 1844, a dentist named Horace Wells took laughing gas before having a tooth extracted. The tooth was pulled without pain.

"Laughing gas," or nitrous oxide, combined with oxygen is still used to make some tooth extractions painless.

Quieter, faster drilling equipment, aimed at taking discomfort out of drilling, didn't come along until the 1950s. High speed reduces pain caused by heat and pressure.

Today, oral surgery includes treating diseases, injuries and deformities of the mouth and teeth by surgery. Broken jaws, injuries caused by auto accidents and harelips are among the conditions the oral surgeon treats.

The oral surgeon also removes tumors from the mouth and extracts teeth, including impacted wisdom teeth, which might prove too difficult for the general dentist.

Orthodontics is concerned with deformities that develop during the growth of teeth and jaws. Such malformations often cause teeth to be crowded and irregularly placed. These deformities also detract from personal good looks, make the teeth decay more readily and often make chewing difficult.

Orthodontic treatment for children is usually put off until the child's second or permanent teeth have grown.



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