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A Short History of Braces

Many of us have a tendency to think of dentistry only in modern-day terms, but the fact is that people having been practicing dentistry in one form or another for thousands of years. That includes – believe it or not – braces! As it turns out, having a straight, attractive smile was every bit as important in ancient times as it is today. And although their methods were definitely primitive by today’s standards, residents of ancient societies actually wore braces in an effort to straighten their teeth. The materials for these dental appliances were quite different than today, such as catgut cords, for example.

The first documented dental treatments date all the way back to Ancient Rome. But it wasn’t until the 18th century that the practice of orthodontic dentistry really became commonplace. It was then, in 1728, when a French dentist named Pierre Fauchard wrote the book “The Surgeon Dentist,” which discussed suggested treatments for crooked teeth. Fauchard is now credited as being the father of modern orthodontics. In his own practice, he used a piece of iron shaped like a horseshoe – called a “bandeau” – to expand the palate of his patients and, thus, help their teeth shift into straighter positions. During that same time period, French dentist Ettiene Bourdet began extracting teeth in his patients to alleviate overcrowding issues and help their teeth to straighten.

Orthodontic methods advanced very quickly in the 19th century, when dentists and early orthodontists began using different materials to straighten teeth, including wires, rubber and elastic bands. Finally, in 1880, the dentist J.N. Farrar developed a method of using mild force over a period of time to gently straighten teeth. Around this same time period, Edward Angle founded the first orthodontic college and started the first journal of orthodontics.

By 1900, braces were being used on a regular basis to straighten crooked smiles. Although the method was effective, the price was quite expensive since dentists and orthodontists used gold bands that wrapped entirely around each tooth. Fortunately, by the mid-20th century dental professionals found that stainless steel worked just as well, making braces attainable by more than just the wealthiest of people. By the 1970s, the old practice of wrapping metal bands completely around each tooth was replaced by using smaller pieces of metal placed on just the front of each tooth.

Over the past 50 years, dental and orthodontic technology has continued to evolve. Today, people who want straighter teeth can choose from traditional metal braces, ceramic (tooth-colored or clear) braces, lingual braces (traditional braces with brackets on the inside of the teeth), or clear plastic aligner trays. For more information about modern ways to straighten teeth and improve the appearance of your smile, talk to your dentist.