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The History Of Orthodontics and Braces

The History Of Orthodontics and Braces

Dr. Michael Layton
January 9, 2015

Modern day braces are now commonplace even though the earliest recordings date back to ancient Egypt. Many ancient cultures have embraced some method of teeth straightening. People throughout history have always desired straight teeth. Becoming educated about the history of orthodontic braces will give you a greater appreciation for your dental health.

Orthodontic treatment was once considered purely cosmetic but there is much more to it than that. Filling in the gaps or spaces of people who have missing or no teeth goes beyond trying to look pretty. Orthodontic braces and implants can correct future periodontal problems, tooth loss and gum disease. Children’s periodontal problems are best corrected early on in life. How many times have you observed  adults who have misaligned teeth or the absence of them? If only more people had access to a Doctor of Dental Surgery who could have recommended a prescribed orthodontic treatment, more people would experience optimum dental health.

Orthodontic braces can preserve a patient's existing teeth, this is accomplished by attaching a dental bridge to the existing teeth. By equally distributing the pressure on all teeth when a person chews food the teeth and jaw bone are maintained.

Orthodontics Definition

Orthodontics is a field of dentistry that specializes in treating patients with malocclusions responsible for improper bites. The etymology of orthodontics comes from the Greek orthos, meaning to “straighten, perfect or proper” and dontos, means “teeth”. Orthodontics also includes cosmetic dentistry, when a patient seeks to improve their aesthetic appearance.

Orthodontists use braces, headgears and other medical devices to correct improper biting.

  • Closing wide gaps between the front teeth
  • Straightening crooked teeth
  • Improving gum health and teeth
  • Correcting a misaligned bite pattern
  • Improving a person’s speech pattern
  • Missing teeth

Orthodontic Practitioners

An orthodontist is a dental specialist who diagnoses the prevention and treatment of dental and facial irregularities. To become an orthodontist a student must first attend college before completing a 4 year graduate program, at a recognized dental school or university, accredited by the Canadian Dental Association. In order for anyone to practice orthodontics at the level of the specialty, an additional residential program from 2 to 4 years must then be completed in the field of orthodontics.

Dentists trained in orthodontics are very necessary in the fight against gum disease and dental bone problems. The most common dental problems orthodontists deal with are the following:

  • Protrusion of the front teeth
  • Crowding of teeth - patient has too many teeth
  • Overbite - the upper teeth come down over the lower ones
  • Open bite - when the teeth are closed there is an overlap between the upper and lower teeth
  • Impacted teeth - the adult teeth are not in the right position
  • Asymmetrical teeth - the upper and lower teeth do not line up correctly
  • Reverse teeth - when the mouth is shut, upper teeth fit inside the lower dental cavity
  • The front teeth protrude - treatment not only improves the patient's appearance, but also protects the teeth from damage; people with protruding front teeth are more likely to injure them in sports, falling down, etc.

The History of Orthodontics


Modern day braces have come a long way from their ancient origins. The earliest recorded history of orthodontics dates back to ancient Egypt and Greece. The first treatment of an irregular tooth was recorded by Celsus (25 bc-ad 50), a Roman writer, who said, “If a second tooth should happen to grow in children before the first has fallen out, that which ought to be shed is to be drawn out and the new one daily pushed toward its place by means of the finger until it arrives at its just proportion.” The first mechanical treatment was advocated by Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), he suggested the filing of elongated teeth to bring them into proper alignment.

Dating back to 400-300 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle discussed various ways to straighten teeth for the ideal smile. Archaeologists have discovered on expeditions the use of Catgut, an ancient dental cord found on mummified remains, made from animal intestines. Metal bands have also been found wrapped around teeth. Dental appliances have also been found among the Etruscans, who buried their dead in place to maintain the space between their teeth. Early A.D. Romans have been found with a gold ligature wire in their teeth. These are some of the earliest examples of ligature braces.


An American dentist by the name of Josiah Flagg of Boston proclaimed “assisting nature in the extension of the jaws, for the beautiful arrangement of the second set of teeth.” It was Etienne Bourdet (1722-1789), who argued that extraction of the first bicuspids prevented overcrowding in the mouth. Ettienne also proved that misaligned teeth could be gradually moved, when attached threads to ivory splints, could be shifted in the mouth.


Fast forward to the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries to the 18th century. Advancement in dental technology was stagnant in the middle ages or the dark ages as some people refer to this time period. The Vatican had a large part to play in suppressing the progression of the sciences. In France, students of dentistry were supposed to have been admitted as early as 1580. Pierre Dionis (1658 - 1718) called dentists “operators for the teeth”. He also stated that they could “open or widen the teeth when they are set too close together.”

Malocclusion were originally called “irregularities” of the teeth, and the correction of teeth was called “regulating.”

France in the 18th century was the leading country in Europe in the field of dentistry. Pierre Fauchard (1678 - 1761) has been referred to as the “Father of Modern Day Dentistry”. Etienne Bourdet (1722-1789) dentist to the king of France was on record for extracting premolars to relieve overcrowding in the mouth. This 17th century dentist was on the cutting edge of dental technology at the time.

John Hunter (1771) wrote a book called The Natural History of the Human Teeth. Although not a dentist John Hunter was an English anatomist and surgeon. He presented detailed notes and observations classifying the teeth, and orthopedic principles. He described normal occlusion, he gave the individual teeth their specific names i.e. cuspidati and bicuspidati. He also described the development of the jaws based on scientific investigation. Additional notes for this book were provided for Francis C. Webb M.D. F.L.S. and Robert T. Hume, M.R.C.S. F.L.S.

Thankfully, orthodontics, like many fields has come along way since the days of the Ancient Greeks to John Hunter. To find out about the latest in orthodontic treatment, give us a call or send us an appointment request. We’ll be happy to have you in for a complimentary consultation.

About Dr. Michael Layton

Dr. Michael Layton - South Surrey DentistDr. Michael Layton is a graduate of University of Washington Doctor of Dental Surgery program and completed his orthodontic residency in 2009. He enjoys providing the highest standard of ideal dentistry across multiple disciplines, including orthodontics. You can follow him on Google+ or 'Like' Peace Arch Dental Centre on Facebook.

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