Pioneering Dental History: The Evolution of Dentures

Learn More About False Teeth and Their Progression Through the Years


Did you know that the First President of the United States, George Washington, wore dentures? However, they were not made of wood, as many tall tales lead you to believe. Actually, his dentures were some of the highest quality of their era.

Hippopotamus tusks were carefully carved for the denture plate with human and animal teeth fitted into it. While today it may sound like something out of a horror movie, this method can be dated back as early as 700 BC. In around 1774, the first set of porcelain dentures was invented – but human teeth were in higher demand because they looked more realistic!

Throughout most of recorded history, humans have found some way to substitute for missing teeth. When you lose teeth, it can impact the health and structure of your entire face and jaw. Not to mention, it can affect your ability to eat certain foods.

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Through The Years

In the early days of 1500 BC, the Egyptians used human teeth threaded with gold wire to attach them to the surrounding teeth in their mouth. In 700 BC Italy, similar techniques were used, although they substituted human teeth with those from animals. In Mayan civilization, they would use a variety of objects, such as animal bones, seashells, or carved rocks and insert them directly into the tooth socket (ouch!). Just like implants today, the bone would grow around these materials and they would become fused to the jaw.

In the 1700s, the use of animal ivory became popular and would be made using materials sourced from walruses, elephants, or hippopotamuses. However, these were found to be particularly ineffective and would decay rather quickly. This, matched with the recent loss of hundreds of soldiers in the Battle of Waterloo, increased the supply and demand for dentures like George Washington’s. Meanwhile, in Japan, sets of full and partial wooden dentures were being produced. These were first introduced in early Japanese history and were used well into the 19th century.

The consumption of sugar greatly increased in Britain in the 1800s, which led to increased tooth decay in mouths everywhere. The first set of porcelain dentures were invented in 1774 by a physician named Alexis Ducheaeau. However, they were prone to cracking and breaking and looked very unnaturally, so they were promptly rejected by the community.

By 1820, improvements had been made to the original model, improving its function and making them available to only those who could afford their hefty price tag. The inventor of these mounted porcelain dentures, a silversmith by the name of Claudius Ash, realized that a large class of people were not getting access to these new dentures, which led to the discovery of another material. Known as vulcanite, this soft but durable rubber had a more pliable texture and made comfortable dentures much more affordable.

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Discovering New Technology

Despite the many abandoned techniques that were used, we still use a number of technologies that were developed thanks to the dental care of the past. With the introduction of dentures made from vulcanite, dental professionals and inventors were working off the model created by Claudius Ash. He mounted strengthened porcelain onto 18-karat gold plates, which were fastened with gold springs and gold swivels to allow for more comfortable movement.

In the 20th century, the dental field saw the introduction of acrylic resin and similar plastic materials, which resisted decay and proved to be a durable option for false teeth and implants.

In 1952, we saw our next big step in denture and implant dental technology. Per-Ingvar Branemark, an orthopedic surgeon from Sweden inserted a titanium cylinder into a rabbit leg and subsequently discovered that it could not be removed. This was because the titanium has successfully fused to the bone in the leg. (Remember the Mayans? They were onto something!) This led to the coining of the term osseointegration and the use of titanium in a variety of medical fields.

In the dental industry, this marked the beginning of dental implants made with titanium. Today, various denture and implant techniques use titanium fused to your bone in place of the lost tooth.

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Fill The Gaps in Your Smile

Thanks to the many dental discoveries of our ancestors, we have comfortable and reliable dental technology that can be used to battle a number of oral health concerns. At Acosta Dental Arts, PA, we are dedicated to providing our clients with premium dental care at affordable costs. Our office specializes in dentures and a number of cosmetic and restorative dentistry procedures. Contact us today to schedule your Free Smile Assessment at our Palm Beach office!

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