History of Dentistry

Dentistry is a medical field that specializes in restoring and maintaining the health of the mouth, including the teeth, soft tissues, and adjacent face and jaw. Although the field is publicly perceived to focus mostly on the teeth, dentistry, which is also called dental medicine, also encompasses the study and treatment of the surrounding systems and structures of the face and head, including the jawbone and its mechanics, the facial musculature, and the lymphatic, vascular, and nervous systems adjacent to the mouth and jaw.


Dentists operate as part of a dental team, which includes dental assistants, dental hygienists, technicians, and dental therapists, and they may work in private practices, hospitals, and institutions like prisons or military bases. Dentistry is an ancient medical tradition, having been practiced as early as 7000 BCE, when decay was drilled from the teeth using flint tools; recent studies suggest that dentistry practices may have been in use even earlier than this. It is believed that dentistry was the first specialization within the broader medical field, and the field has consistently evolved; currently, dentistry is an evidence-based practice that focuses on maintaining the health and integrity of the teeth as well as the oral cavity and adjacent structures.


According to the World Health Organization, dental and oral diseases are considered a significant public health problem and are highly prevalent around the world, especially in developing countries and among the financially disadvantaged. The most common oral diseases are dental caries, which are more commonly known as tooth decay, and periodontal disease, or gum disease. Dentists commonly treat these diseases through restoration, extraction, deep cleaning, root canal treatments, and for cosmetic or aesthetic benefit. Some graduate dental programs are combined with undergraduate programs, allowing some students to complete only three years of undergraduate education before beginning dental school, though most dentists complete a bachelor’s degree and then enroll in a four-year dental program. Graduating from a dental program confers a degree of D.D.S. (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or D.M.D (Doctor of Dental Medicine). Once this degree is completed, dentists may choose to seek additional certification in a specialization. There are currently 12 specializations that are recognized by the American Dental Association: Dental Anesthesiology; Dental Public Health; Endodontics; Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology; Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology; Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery; Oral Medicine; Orofacial Pain; Orthodontics; Pediatric Dentistry; Periodontics; and Prosthodontics. Other specializations may exist but are not recognized by the A.D.A.


Dentists are trained to carry out dental treatments and deep cleanings as well as conducting dental examinations and taking x-rays, along with diagnosing problems with the mouth and teeth. Dentists are also certified to prescribe medications that may be used in the field, including antibiotics and sedatives. Dentists focus on preventative treatment, encouraging effective home hygiene habits and periodic dental checkups and cleanings; most dentists recommend brushing the teeth twice daily, flossing daily, and visiting the dentist for an examination and cleaning twice yearly. Dentists are also trained to assess the mouth during examination to determine whether any systemic diseases are present, as certain systemic diseases manifest conditions in the oral cavity. Dentists also promote oral health as part of a larger system of health, as gum disease has been shown to correlate to diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions.