Although the term “orthodontics” typically brings to mind advanced techniques such as acrylic aligners and dental implants, evidence suggests that the practice has been in existence for thousands of years.
Ancient mummies have been found that possessed rudimentary braces consisting of crude metal and catgut. The Greeks of the Golden Age buried their dead with dental appliances used to maintain tooth spacing and, in a Roman tomb, the dead was found to have a gold wire dental ligature. While mentions of orthodontics were few and far between, there is no doubt that the ancients were definitely intrigued with the concept of dental preservation and improvements.
Although varying methods of dental correction have been used for millenia, the actual science of orthodontics didn’t arise until the 18th century. In the year 1728, Pierre Fauchard, the famous French dentist, published a volume called “The Surgeon Dentist” which contained a whole chapter on straightening teeth. Fauchard also developed the “Bandeau” that was used to expand the arch, an appliance that was later improved upon by Ettiene Bourdet. The title of “Father of Orthodontics” is typically given to either Norman W. Kingsley who wrote the first article on the subject or J.N. Farrar who designed brace appliances and wrote two works on teeth irregularities and corrections.
The actual word “orthodontics” was first used in 1841 by Joachim Lafoulon. Following this was the introduction of gum elastics by Maynard, the use of rubber bands by Tucker, and the first utilization of orthodontic X-rays by Talbot in the late 1800s. However, as groundbreaking as these advances were, they were nothing compared to the new technologies that the 20th century would herald.
During the early 1900s, a classification system for malocclusions was devised by Edward H. Angle. A technique that is still used today, Angle’s system went a long way to developing orthodontic appliances to fit different needs. Angle also founded the first orthodontic school, the American Society of Orthodontia or AAO, in 1901.
The most common of orthodontic appliances, braces, were composed in the early 1900s of gold, silver, gum rubber, platinum, steel, and vulcanite among other things. Gold was particularly common as the metal is easy to mold although its malleability also made it necessary for frequent adjustments to keep the braces functional. These braces wrapped around the entire tooth. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that steel began to replace these precious metals as orthodontic material.
Braces continued to be wrapped around the whole tooth until the 1970s with the inception of direct bonding. While the modern bracket had already been invented, it wasn’t until this decade that a proper adhesive had been developed. It was also about this time that the self-ligating bracket was introduced. These brackets, unlike the previous appliances, did not require elastic or wire ligatures. Instead, they were held in place using a “trap door” in the bracket.
In the 70s, Earl Bergerson also developed the passive Ortho-Tain pieces which were designed to guide the growth of the jaw and correct malocclusions in adults as well as children. These appliances looked like plastic mouthguards and were meant to be used primarily while sleeping.
In the mid 1970s, one Japanese and one American orthodontist were working independently to create the first lingual braces, braces that are placed on the tooth’s inside surface. These braces were meant to work in the same way as bonded brackets without having to been visible. Lingual braces continue to be used and improved to this day. Recent advances have made their use more comfortable for patients.
Today, with advancements such as Invisalign in the early 21st century and the increased use of digital imaging, there is no doubt that the realm of orthodontics will continue to improve and evolve for years to come.