Abbreviated History of Orthodontics

The problem of crowded, irregular, and protruding teeth has been a concern for people since ancient times. Early attempts to correct these issues can be traced back to as early as 1000 BC, with the discovery of primitive orthodontic appliances in archaeological sites of ancient civilizations like Greece, Etruria, and Rome.

As dentistry advanced in the 18th and 19th centuries, various devices for tooth alignment were described and used by dentists of that era. The term “regulation” was commonly used to refer to this area of dentistry until the 1800s when a French dentist named Dr. Lefoulon introduced the term “orthodontisie” to describe his work with crooked teeth.

During the American Civil War, orthodontic devices for tooth movement started becoming more refined. A popular method involved attaching a gold plate to all teeth except those that needed to be moved forward. Tiny wires, known as “ligatures” today, were used to secure the plate to the teeth.

Orthodontics, or the practice of regulating teeth, experienced rapid growth in the 1880s and 1890s, known as the “golden age of regulating.” New methods for tooth movement were developed, and expanding the dental arch to create space for crowded teeth became popular during this time.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, early models of headgear and neck gear were introduced, along with the development of the “Bite Plane” made of vulcanite. This appliance positioned the lower jaw forward, laying the foundation for modern appliances like the Bionator and Herbst used in orthodontic treatment today.

During this period, the focus in orthodontics was mainly on aligning the teeth and correcting facial proportions. Dental occlusion received little attention, and tooth extractions were common for crowding or misalignment. The importance of good occlusal and dental relationships was often overlooked in an era where having all teeth was rare.
The concept of occlusion began to emerge in the late 1800s, initially in the field of prosthodontics. Edward H. Angle, a prominent figure in orthodontics from the 1890s, played a crucial role in developing a concept of occlusion in natural dentition. Angle’s classification system and terminology for diagnosing and treating cases became influential, shaping orthodontics as a specialized field.

In the 1880s, orthodontics started incorporating biological considerations into mechanical advancements, studying the effects of force and pressure on moving teeth. Articles were published in dental magazines, and the first books dedicated exclusively to orthodontics were published during this time.

The study of skulls and dental occlusions throughout history, aided by archaeological sites, further emphasized the significance of normal occlusion in modern orthodontic treatment. In 1887, Davenport published “The Significance of the Natural Form and Arrangement of the Dental Arch of Man,” advocating against unnecessary tooth extractions. Dr. Henry Baker introduced the idea of using elastics or rubber bands for orthodontic treatment, originally for his son’s malocclusion.

Today, modern orthodontic treatment is a blend of art and biology, providing efficient, comfortable, and fast correction of dental and skeletal malocclusions. The accomplishments achieved in orthodontics would not have been possible without the pioneering efforts of those who worked tirelessly throughout history.