How Braces Have Shaped Smiles Throughout the Ages

Would you believe me if I told you some of the earliest braces were made of gold? What about animal intestines?

Orthodontia has been practiced for thousands of years. While many of the older techniques and materials (yes, I’m referring to animal intestines) are no longer as prevalent, the core concept of the practice has held steady over the years. Doctors throughout the ages have worked to help shift and align the teeth within the mouth, working to give their patients a beautifully aligned smile after treatment.

Orthodontic practices have been around… well… kind of forever! The desire for a perfectly straight, healthy, and attractive smile is not necessarily a new concept. Many different ancient civilizations practiced the craft in order to shape and preserve a healthy and aligned smile.

Ancient Egyptians

This civilization has been known throughout history for its remarkable innovation. From developing papyrus to building the pyramids, the Egyptians were crafty and highly technologically advanced. It’s no surprise that they eventually developed their own style of ancient orthodontic practices within their culture. Archaeologists have discovered tombs in which the Egyptian mummies appear to be wearing an ancient form of braces— metal, resembling modern-day brackets, was fastened to the mummy’s teeth. Animal intestines, often that of horses or sheep, acted for them as a modern-day wire would for us. Due to Egypt’s high regard for the deceased and the concept of the afterlife, braces were typically used on those who had passed before the mummification process in order to give the patient a beautiful smile in the afterlife.

Ancient Romans

The Romans were another incredibly advanced civilization that left a tremendous mark on the modern world. They were architectural geniuses, both in constructing their roads and aqueducts, as well as the perfect smile. They are noted as the first civilization to use braces on the living, helping to correct smiles throughout the life of their patients. Many methods for straightening teeth were proposed, but perhaps the most interesting is the method proposed by Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a medical writer in Ancient Rome. He suggested pushing newly emerged teeth with the fingers to guide them into the proper position. Ouch! Archaeologists have repeatedly found ligature wire, a fine, gold wire, on the teeth of ancient Romans while excavating their final burial places, demonstrating that the practice of orthodontia was alive and well in their society.

Ancient Greeks

Around 400 BC, the first documented account of asymmetry and irregularities of the teeth was produced by Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician. Because they were aware of the problems and irregularities within the teeth by 400 BC, the Ancient Greeks were able to focus on developing a solution, targeting problematic teeth to fix alignment and create a healthier smile.

Perhaps you’ve heard the name Socrates in history class? The Ancient Greek philosopher has been noted as documenting orthodontic practices, mentioning a “gold band” that Etruscan women wore to maintain alignment of the teeth. Sound familiar? These “gold bands” acted as some of the earliest forms of retainers.

These ancient civilizations set the groundwork for modern-day Orthodontics. Over the years, many of these techniques remained an example. Not much seemed to change from how the Ancients practiced Orthodontia. However eventually, as the enlightenment period began to take off, new ideas blossomed in all fields, including art, philosophy, and orthodontia.

Around the 17th Century, Matthaeus Gottfried Purmann, a surgeon known for making significant improvements to techniques used during surgeries, introduced the idea of impressions. Matthaeus Gottfried Purmann began performing wax impressions on the teeth of his patients. This is significant because the practice continues to this day! Sure, there are more modern forms of taking impressions, but the purpose remains the same. Dental impressions allow the orthodontist to closely examine the position of teeth and gums, making an accurate map of the mouth, which in turn helps in the treatment phase. With a clear map of the mouth, orthodontists can suggest the most effective treatment plan for each patient.

Another notable mention of the times is Pierre Fauchard, “the Father of Dentistry.” Fauchard constructed a device to align the teeth. The appliance was shaped like a horseshoe and had holes spaced regularly throughout the teeth in order to hold them in alignment. This is perhaps the inspiration for some modern retainers. Fauchard also operated on patients, essentially breaking down pieces of the bones of the teeth, tying them to one another in a desirable shape so that they’d heal in an attractive form. Thankfully, we have made advancements in orthodontia so that it isn’t nearly as painful as it was in the old days to achieve your dream smile.

Another couple hundred years later, orthodontia underwent more change, as technological advancements in the field abounded. Edward Hartley Angle led the charge to the modern era and is known as the Father of Modern Orthodontics. In the 1880s, Hartley Angle identified and outlined the basic components of misalignment within the teeth, setting the standard for what orthodontists now treat as misalignments. He also created several different appliances that proved beneficial in helping align the teeth.

Almost a century after Edward Hartley Angle’s advancements, experts classify the 1970s as an orthodontic revolution, perhaps the most recent we’ve seen. Here, we see the fully evolved system that is familiar to today’s treatments—brackets put on teeth with a wire to align. Orthodontists around the world continue to practice the method developed in the 1970s, giving us modern-day braces. Although braces remain the most common association of orthodontists and their practice, many more advancements have been made throughout the years.

Appliances, Invisalign, and 3D scans in place of gooey molds are all tremendous accomplishments. Orthodontists continue to remain dedicated to the craft, discovering new ways each and every day to provide the most comfort possible to their patients, while also practicing the most effective way to achieve the perfect smile.

Interested in learning more about the modern practices we use at Peterson Family Orthodontics? Check out our list of appliances that are put to use in our office!