You may think that cosmetic dentistry is a recent trend but it actually has centuries of precedent, with cosmetic surgery — be it whitening or replacement veneers — having a rich history dating back to ancient times. Although advancements in technology have made the current era the golden age in dental health and aesthetics, we can trace a line back in time to bygone cosmetic procedures.
Early cosmetic surgery
The idea of dentistry as a specialised practice is relatively modern. However, people have been concerned with the look and feel of their teeth since ancient times. The early Etruscans are known to have created dentures from either bone, ivory or other teeth, being sold and bartered since the 8th century BC. By the 2nd century AD, the Etruscans had begun utilising gold to restore dental crowns and bridges. Other ancient civilisations have also show forms of cosmetic surgery, with ancient Egypt, China, India and other early civilisations utilising seashells, precious metals, jewels and other materials for teeth decoration.
Although whitening is a widespread practice today, the practice of whitening teeth can be dated back through centuries. The Romans, for instance, constructed a toothpaste with a mixture of urine which, because it was rich in ammonia, naturally whitened teeth. This practice continued through many cultures until the 18th century. Other whitening practices now thankfully a thing of the past include the use of acid. Acid destroys tooth enamel, making teeth whiter whilst simultaneously corroding them. In fact, teeth whitening used to be the purview not of dentists but of barbers. Following a haircut, barbers would rub acid on their customer’s teeth to remove stains and pull out any rotting teeth.
By the time of the European Enlightenment, vast progress had been made in medicine, science and dentistry. In the 15th century, it was common for wealthy patrons to receive replacement dentures manufactured from ivory or bone. By the end of the 18th century, both metals and porcelain dentures were utilised to replace missing teeth. Remaining popular well into the Victorian period, the 19th century witnessed the invention of Vulcanite, a material constructed from rubber which sat at the base of false teeth to allow them to rest easily and more comfortably in the mouth.
The father of modern cosmetic dentistry is Newell Sill Jenkins, a dentist who developed porcelain enamel for use as dental crowns and bridges in the late 19th century. He even developed a toothpaste to clean and whiten called Kolynos, taken over by Colgate and widely used the world over. Of course, many earlier practices were still in their infancy compared to the strides made in cosmetic dentistry today, with bleaching, replacement veneers and implants now commonplace.