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The Evolution of Braces

The Evolution of Braces
Posted on 09/11/2019
The Evolution of Braces

The Evolution of Braces

Did you know that braces date back to ancient times? Around 400-300 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle thought of ways to straighten teeth and fix different types of dental conditions. Archeologists have discovered numerous mummified ancient individuals with what appears to be metal bands wrapped around their teeth. Unfortunately, due to the lack of evidence, poor preservation of bodies and primitive technology, little research was carried out on dental braces until around the 17th century, although dentistry was making great advancements as a profession by then.

Dental braces are devices used in orthodontics that align and straighten teeth and help position them with regard to a person’s bite, while also trying to improve dental health. Crooked teeth can interfere with proper oral hygiene and are not too aesthetically pleasing. Poorly aligned teeth have been a cause for concern as far back as Ancient Egypt. It is said that even Cleopatra wore a pair. The first braces were made of cord from animal skin attached to teeth the same way a modern dentist would attach wire to braces. Thankfully we don’t have to use this cord anymore, it was commonly referred to as “catgut” for reasons we don’t care to know. Ancient Etruscans used a mouth guard type device to protect a recently deceased person's teeth from collapsing inward after time.

The first records of straightening teeth actually from Rome. Aulis Cornelius Celsus documented his attempts to straighten teeth with the force of his own hand, by applying pressure at certain regular points. He recorded success in his experiments, but it is difficult to back up his work now. What we do know is that archeologists have found Roman burials with remains featuring a small gold wire on the teeth or what is left of them. From the end of the Roman Empire to the rise of British and French Empires, there wasn’t much advancement in orthodontics. 

Orthodontics truly started developing in the 18th and 19th centuries. Between 1728 and 1757, two books on dentistry were written by Pierre Fauchard and Pierre Bourdet. Fauchard was a fresh thinking, modern dentist for his time. In 1728, he was often credited with inventing modern orthodontics and also published a book on straightening teeth. In particular he discovered the device called a “Bandeu” which was similar to a mouthguard and was thought to help teeth stay in their intended position. He was also the first dentist on record to recommend extraction of the premolars to alleviate crowding and to improve jaw growth. In 1757, Bourdet wrote his own book and expanded on Fauchard’s Bandeu device. He was able to improve the device in several ways and made the important discovery that the wisdom teeth could be removed to avoid crowding, a common cause of misaligned teeth in adults even today.

Although teeth and palate straightening or pulling teeth was used to improve alignment, orthodontics as a science of its own did not exist until the mid-19th century. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that the term “braces” became widely used. Dr. Edward Maynard added elastics to the system in 1843 to improve jaw alignment. In 1950, the first rubber bands for fixing the bite or midline were created from rubber tubing.

In the early 20th century, the first simple classification system for malocclusions or bad bites, such as Class I or Class II and so on. Class I is when you have a normal relationship between the upper teeth, the lower teeth, and jaws or balanced bite. A Class II is where the lower first molar is posterior (or more towards the back of the mouth) than the upper first molar. The system is still being used to this day, to describe how crooked teeth are, the way they are pointing and how they fit together. Edward Engle founded the first school and college of orthodontics, organized the American Association of Orthodontia in 1901, which became the AAO or the American Association of Orthodontics1 in the 1930s and founded the first orthodontic journal in 1907.

Orthodontics has come a long way since ancient times and through centuries. In today’s modern world, braces are more common than ever. With the technology boom, braces are becoming a thing of the past and now there are ways to straighten your teeth without the requirement of metal braces. Recent breakthroughs with plastic aligners2, that are made to custom fit your teeth with different movements in the trays as you progress in treatment. There are numerous ways to make treatment go smoother and faster. You may need some small movements or your treatment may be more involved with full braces and possible jaw surgery. There are many options available to us today, who knew it started back in ancient times! It’ll be exciting to see what other advances we may have in the future.