We’ll bet the early history of dental care and dentists in the United States is far more interesting that you would have guessed, filled with famous names and genius innovations. While the technology and discoveries that led to modern dentistry happened all over the world, many notable firsts took place in the United States.
While Paul Revere is known best as a silversmith and for his famous ride during the Revolutionary War, he also briefly offered services as a dentist. He was also responsible for the first known case of using dental forensics to identify a body. After the Battle of Breed’s Hill in Boston, Revere confirmed the identity of his friend Dr. Joseph Warren by the dental bridge he had constructed for him.
When George Washington was serving as the first U.S. president, American dentist John Greenwood crafted him a set of false teeth from hippopotamus ivory, gold wire, brass and human teeth. Contrary to legend, none of Washington’s sets of dentures were made of wood. Several of his sets of false teeth still exist today and are on display at museums near his home.
Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris established the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, the first dental school in the world. This school is also the first to offer the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, which is later adopted by other institutions. The College later became part of the University of Maryland. The Dentariae Medicinae Doctorae (DMD) degree was later established by Harvard University, leading to lots of confusion over the two names for what is essentially the same dental degree!
The invention of metal tube packaging makes at home oral hygiene more convenient than ever. Toothpaste can now be sold pre-mixed in a squeezable tube. Before this, people had to mix powder with water to make their own paste whenever they cleaned their teeth.
Just a year after William Roentgen, a German physicist, discovers x-rays, an American dentist named C. Edmond Kells takes a dental x-ray of a living patient for the first time. X-rays go on to become one of dentistry’s most powerful tools for diagnosis and treatment planning.