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A history of false teeth and dentures.

george washington's denture george washington's denture spring denture waterloo denture bone denture mother of pearl denture bone denture spring denture ivory denture hippo denture ancient denture porcelain denture Vulcanite denture early metal dentures human teeth denture antique false teeth or denture

A Denture is a prosthetic device designed to replace missing teeth. They are also called false teeth. There are two main categories of dentures, complete dentures and Partial dentures, they can be made for either the upper ‘maxillary’ or lower ‘mandibular’ dental arches.

Historically, dentures have been around for quite some time, and some have been discovered in what is today’s Mexico dating back to around 2500BC, and are thought to be made from wolfs teeth.

Ancient Egyptian dentistry

Egyptians were very knowledgeable about the human body, mummification required them to drain the blood and remove the internal organs which lead to a better understanding of the human body. The Egyptian doctors wrote manuals on many medical procedures and it is in one of these manuals we found evidence of some of the earliest dental procedures to be carried out. The earliest signs of dental surgery were between 3000 and 2500 B.C and usually involved the extraction of teeth or drilling of cavities.

Ancient Etruscan dentistry

Later at around 700BC, the Etruscans of Italy used gold wire and bands to attach human and animal teeth. These gold bands were wrapped around the teeth and cemented by soldering with heat, although this is more like a cross between a dental bridge and a denture. The Etruscan people were incredibly intelligent and luxury was of great importance to them, and they used their knowledge of dentistry they had gained from trade and travel across the seas.

Ancient Greek Dentistry

Archaeologists have learned a lot from the mummified remains of a Greek man who lived about 2100 years ago, who had severe dental problems and as a result, died from a sinus infection caused by a life of painful cavities.  Greek dentists struggle to prevent or cure the man and linen soaked in medicine was used to plug the tooth and stop any further food from entering the cavity and festering. Greeks were not found of extractions and would often suffer the pain as it was far more important than losing the tooth.

Ancient Mayan Dentistry

Many think that dental implants are the cutting edge of modern dentistry; however, the Mayan civilization used them first. Around 600 A.D., they would put pieces of bone, seashells, and even carved rocks in a tooth socket. The jaw bone would grow around these materials, just like it does for dental implants today

Waterloo Dentures

In 1815, the Battle of Waterloo left over 50,000 dead soldiers, which left over 1,600,000 teeth no one was using anymore. The people of Belgium collected these teeth and sold them to England, shipping them over in barrels. It actually became popular to have “Waterloo Teeth” replace missing ones.

George Washington’s dentures

George Washington suffered from poor dental health throughout his adulthood; beginning in his twenties he experienced regular toothaches, decay, and tooth loss. These problems were likely due to factors common during Washington’s era, including a poorly balanced diet and disease, as well as genetics. As a result, he spent his life in frequent pain and employed a variety of tooth cleaners, dental medicines, and dentures. Contrary to later legend, none of Washington’s false teeth were made of wood. Prior to Washington’s service in the Revolutionary War, Dr John Baker, the first dentist to fashion false teeth for Washington, fabricated a partial denture with ivory that was wired to Washington’s remaining real teeth. In the 1780s, Washington employed the services of Jean-Pierre Le Mayeur, a French dentist living in America, but it is unclear precisely what dental services Le Mayeur performed.

Modern dentures

Alexis Duchâteau made the first porcelain dentures in 1770. Before that he wore dentures made from hippopotamus but they began to rot so he tried to make something more durable. His first tries fell short but when he teamed up with Nicholas Dubois De Chemant, a dentist, they managed to make a pair that Duchâteau could wear. They looked nice but had a problem that they chipped easily. Nicholas Dubois De Chemant improved porcelain for dentures, making it stronger, and patented the first British patent for porcelain dentures in 1791. An improved version of porcelain dentures mounted on 18-carat gold plates was made by Samuel Stockton, a goldsmith, in 1820.

In the 1850s, dentures were made of Vulcanite, a type of hardened rubber, with porcelain teeth. Vulcanite was cheap and dentures became available to the wider population. The only problem was the copyright under which was the manufacturing of Vulcanite so an alternative was sought and found in aluminium whose popularity lasted until copyright on Vulcanite expired and it became standard denture base material. Celluloid was invented in 1868 by Hyatt and was used as a denture base material 1890 but it had an unpleasant odour because it used camphor as the plasticizer. It also didn’t hold shape for long but it marked the beginning of plastics as materials for dentures. Bakelite base found in 1909 and was used in dentistry from 1924 and 1939. When the improved resins were introduced in 1940, they suppressed the use of Vulcanite. From 1938 polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA or acrylic resin) became prevailing material for denture base. It is hard, translucent and inert (has no unpleasant odour or toxicity), it can be easily repaired and it is inexpensive. Because of these characteristics, it is still used today as a quality base for dentures.

Digital dentures

With the advance of CAD CAM technology, digital dentures are now coming to the forefront of denture design and production. There will be more information on this in my next post.



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