Dentistry has a long history. The Egyptians were utilizing dentists in 2600 BC in Egypt and were the first to designate a doctor whose specialization was treating teeth. There’s evidence of dentistry in Mesopotamia in 2800 BC, where it was considered to be a category of medicine and was regulated by the government. 

Up until the early 19th century, in Europe and America, if you wanted to see a surgeon or a dentist, there was only one place to go: the barbershop. When barbers weren’t cutting hair, they were attending to medical and dental needs. The dental knowledge a barber was required to have seemed to extend only to extracting teeth. The red, white and blue in barber poles isn’t a show of patriotism; it represents blood, bandages, and veins, respectively. 

December Blog image: Old Dentist Tool

Considering dentistry’s long  4,600-year history, the last 100 years have seen more innovation than any other period, which could probably also be said about every aspect of American life.

As a point of reference, if you had been around back in 1920, here’s what America was like:

  • The 18th amendment was added to the constitution, prohibiting the sale of alcohol
  • The 19th amendment was added to the constitution, giving women the right to vote
  • The first radio station was licensed
  • The NFL was founded as the American Professional Football League 
  • Scientists thought the entire universe consisted of just our galaxy 
  • The atomic proton and nucleus had recently been discovered by Ernest Rutherford 
  • Babe Ruth would put on a Yankees uniform for the first time
  • The average lifespan was 53.6 years for men and 54.6 years for women

It was clearly a different world.

What would a trip to the dentist have been like 100 years ago? If you were lucky, a dental visit in 1920 might have included novocaine, which was first discovered in 1905. Although the technology was available, you probably wouldn’t have received an X-ray in 1920. If you did, an X-ray would take 40 minutes, exposing  you to dangerous radiation the whole time. It would still be three years until a safer dental x-ray machine was produced in 1923

Your dentist probably wouldn’t have had a dental hygienist because the position was created just six years earlier when Dr. Alfred Fones opened the first school for dental hygienists in 1913. And, if  you needed a filling, your dentist would have slowly and painfully drilled your teeth using a drill operated by a foot pedal. 

December Blog image: Old Dentist Tool
Finally, had you needed a tooth pulled, the odds were that the open socket would become infected. There was little that could be done to prevent infection, and antibiotics were still several years away; penicillin wouldn’t be discovered until 1928, and sulfa drugs weren’t discovered until 1935. 

In 1920, there were pretty legitimate reasons to not want to see a dentist. Today, those who become anxious prior to a dental visit may be experiencing a genetic memory—something ingrained in their brains by ancestors who had their teeth yanked out by a barber. 

The truth is, progress was slow in advancing medical and dental technology throughout much of history. It’s only been in the last 100 years that the practice of medicine and dentistry have made huge strides, thanks to exponential advances in technology.   

Let’s look at the incredible progress that’s led to modern dentistry and why visiting your dentist in 2020 is as pain-free as going to the barber—for a haircut, of course.     

  • 1900s – As electricity became more available, electric dental drills, first patented in 1875, became more common. The new electric drills could reach speeds of 3,000 rotations per minute (rpm). The next advancement in dental drills wouldn’t come for another 50 years. 
  • 1921 – British law stipulates that only registered dentists could practice dentistry.
  • 1935 – Polymerized acrylic resin is first used as a denture base to support artificial teeth. 
  • 1949 – Oskar Hagger develops a way to molecularly bond acrylic resin to dentin. 
  • 1950 – The first fluoride toothpastes become available to consumers.
  • 1957 – John Borden invents a high-speed, air-driven handpiece, increasing drill power from the traditional 5,000 rpm to 300,000 rpm, which shortened the time to prepare a tooth for a filling to a matter of minutes.
  • 1958 – The first fully reclining dental chair is introduced, allowing more patient and dentist comfort and enabling the dentist to have an assistant help with procedures.
  • 1970 – The electric toothbrush is introduced in the U.S.
  • 1980 – Per-Ingvar Brånemark discovers a method for securing dental implants by allowing bone to fuse with a foreign, implanted material. 
  • 1990 – Esthetic dentistry gains in popularity with tooth-colored restorative materials, bleaching, veneers and implants. 
  • 1997 – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the minimally invasive dental lasers which can be used on both hard and soft tissues to treat tooth decay, reshape gums and remove bacteria during a root canal, remove lesions, remove tissue for biopsies, and whiten teeth. 
  • Today
  • As 3D printing has become more flexible and inexpensive, it’s being increasingly used to create dentures, implants, crown and bridge models, and surgical guides. With the availability of many new resins, look for dentists to use in-office 3D printing to speed up and lower the cost of many procedures.
  • Digital technology is changing X-rays in the same way that photography was changed 20 years ago. Digital X-rays are safer and faster than traditional X-rays. Rather than film, an electronic sensor is placed in one’s mouth, requiring a shorter burst of X-rays. The sensor then sends the image to a laptop or tablet screen; no darkroom, no chemicals, no film processing, and no tiny negatives viewed on a lightbox. Dentists can control brightness and contrast of the image and can magnify any region. X-rays can then be stored in the cloud, e-mailed to other professionals for consultation. No more waiting three days for the X-rays to arrive at a specialist’s office. 
  • Do you remember having to sit for several minutes biting down on a mouthful of goopy material so the dentist could get an accurate impression of your teeth? Teeth can now be digitally scanned, creating a more accurate recreation of a patient’s teeth and bite. Plus, the results are immediately available for viewing on a monitor. If necessary, re-scans can take place right away. 

Visiting the dentist has changed today. Technology is making it even easier and faster to get a checkup, get work done, maintain superlative oral health, and be on your way. 

December Blog image: New Dentist Tool
For a great dental experience, contact the office of Dr. Brei. Not only is Dr. Brei the expert on the latest technology, but his  beautifully appointed office and friendly, efficient, professional  staff will put you immediately at ease. 

During this challenging time, everyone at Dr. Brei’s office has made the safety of their patients their number one priority. Watch this video showing all the steps Dr. Brei has taken to protect patients and ensure every patient’s comfort, safety and wellness.

There are many ways to contact the office of Dr. Brei. You can email them at, call them at 520-325-9000, or click here to book an appointment directly. For a pleasant dental experience, get in touch with the office of Dr. Brei today.