Human beings have felt strongly about the value of a good smile for thousands of years. Even mummies from ancient cultures have been discovered with bands wrapped around their teeth from early attempts at orthodontics. In the thousands of years since then, orthodontic technology has made astounding advances, but the practice’s historic roots were amazingly simple.
Ancient Greece and Rome
As early as 500 B.C., Greek philosophers Aristotle and Hippocrates considered different methods of straightening teeth, but it is the Etruscans who are credited with first using appliances to perfect the smiles of its citizens. Later, the Romans developed crude gold wire bindings for the manipulation of teeth. The Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder suggested filing the teeth to create a uniform look, which remained common until the 1700s.
Braces Begin to Transform
In 1728, Pierre Fauchard, known as the “Father of Orthodontia,” wrote a book titled
“The Surgeon Dentist “ that included a chapter devoted entirely to methods of straightening teeth. He advocated the use of what he called a bandeau. This device, a small strip of metal that was bound to the teeth using ties, was used to expand the arch of the mouth and modify the alignment of teeth. Later, in 1757, the French dentist Ettienne Bourdet published a book called “The Dentist’s Art, “ with its own chapter covering the alignment of teeth using appliances. Bourdet is credited with perfecting the bandeau and is the first dentist known to have extracted teeth to prevent overcrowding.
The Roots of Modern Orthodontics Emerge
In the late 19th century, Norman W. Kinsley and Edward H. Angle pioneered ideas on misalignment of teeth and formed the principles upon which modern orthodontic treatment is based. Using long-term pressure and regular adjustments, dentists of the early 1900s refined orthodontic practices to create methods similar to those in use today. Early bands and wires were made of precious metals such as gold, platinum and silver. Steel was not commonly used for braces until the 1950s.
In the 1970s, new brackets were invented that bonded directly to the teeth, but these brackets did not become popular until the next decade. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, orthodontic technology rapidly progressed. One of the biggest breakthroughs was wires made of nickel-titanium alloy, a technology developed by NASA. These wires, which are used to apply a gentler force over a longer period of time than stainless steel wires, are still used today.
The next major breakthrough was Invisalign, a method for straightening the teeth without the use of braces. We will cover the evolution of Invisalign in a later post.
Today, it is truly amazing how far the field of orthodontic braces has come since its beginnings thousands of years ago. As new technologies continue to emerge, the field will likely offer consumers even more convenience and options in the future. One thing that will never change, however, is the immeasurable value of an attractive smile and a functional bite.