The History of Dentistry

Faced with the choice of enduring a bad toothache or going to the dentist, we generally tried to ride out the bad tooth.

- Joseph Barbera

            I’d just like to start out by saying that I was inspired to write this essay by the fact that, while I write this, I’ve recently been to the dentist to have my wisdom teeth taken out. That was yesterday. It is now 2:35 AM in the morning and I’m pretty sure you could shoot me in the ass with that tranquilizing shit they give to rhinos and my freaking gums would still keep me awake. Now hey, I don’t hate dentists, no, I’m not a religious man, but I’ve always liked that one line, blame the sin, forgive the sinner, Or something like that (once again, 2:35 in the FUCKING morning). But let’s all just admit it- dentists may, quite possibly be, the most loathsome form of doctor out there. It’s hard to explain, but let’s just compare and contrast shall we: with regular doctors, when you go to see them, whether voluntarily, like for a checkup, or involuntarily, like when you’ve just been stabbed by a homeless junkie because you couldn’t fork over the money so he could get at his crack rock, you’re going to them so that you can hopefully live longer. When you go to the dentist, it’s almost always voluntary, that is to say, I’ve never heard of anybody being emergency airlifted to the nearest dental practice for an extreme toothache.
Apparently Obama's Healthcare plan doesn't cover it.
And when you do go, you’re not going so you can live longer, you’re going because either something hurts, and you just kinda want it to stop, or because the dentist says there’s something wrong, and that’s that. And that’s when you get to the root of the problem- with a real doctor, you’re willing to undergo a serious, painful operation, because you know that it will allow you to live that much longer, and if the doctor fails, then at least you died knowing that the death was inevitable anyway. With a dentist, if you’re not already in an assload of pain, than the invitation of going through an even bigger assload of pain simply because it might help make you feel better, is kind of a shitty deal. Plus, if the dentist should fail in his/her operation, then you get to die knowing that you died because you couldn’t take a bit of a sore ache, like a bitch.
"It just got so hard to eat Doritos though!"
And yet it’s that inherent bitch-dom in all humans that keeps the art of dentistry alive, and admittedly, however much it may suck to feel like this right now, I know that what I’m feeling is sum total of hundreds of years scientific labor to figure out exactly what the fuck is wrong with my mouth (besides the fact that language- wise it’s filthier than a fucking sailor), and how that can be remedied. As Kahlil Gibran puts it, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility” I am 100% certain that he was not talking about dentistry of course; but still, I feel it applies pretty well to the circumstances. And speaking of pain, how about those Egyptians, huh? Because as we all know, while the Egyptians were hardcore badasses that had less fucks to give than they had sand up their individual ass-cracks, they were also extremely classy, and kind of cared about how they looked (hence the very manly mascara, and skirts), so of course they created the medical profession that works around the facial feature people apparently notice the most (according to this brochure I am holding for Invisalign), dentistry.
I don't know, that big red dodgeball over the one dude's head is drawing my eye.
Now remember, I am saying they invented it, but only because they were the first to really record their dental operations, using papyrus scrolls. It would be foolish to say that prehistoric man didn’t take a little time out of the day every now and again to go poking around his mouth, chances are you yourself have done so at least once or twice as well, just as it is quite possible that in all that poking around, with rocks, and sticks (and other things of that incredibly unsafe sort) something that could be considered a dental operation didn’t go on way back when. Also we can totally prove that something considered a dental operation happened way back when, because we live in the 21st century, and Egyptian dentistry happened a looong time after prehistoric man started setting up culture you fool. We’ve actually uncovered evidence that people were allowing their friends to use a stone to drill into their teeth as far back as 9,000 years ago, with some pretty perfectly preserved teeth dating back from 5500 BC proving that such dental practice was going on with live patients.
The Frat Pledge: The only other person to let something like that happen to him in 9,000 years.
Don’t let all these big, smart, intelligent words fool you though, you didn’t have cavemen calmly lying in the doctor’s chair, waiting for the dentist to show himself in, and, with the aid of a nurse, begin the tactful operation, calmly, and smoothly, and peacefully and shit, the whole thing probably looked more like a bunch of guys crowding around another dude, inventing the art of the beat-down, not dentistry. The process theoretically used, is that the dentist would take a sharp pointy flint tip, and then using a kind of bow tool, like they would use to build fires with, would start spinning the flint around, back and forth, drilling it into the teeth- the worst part being that shit like this was done without those chill-pill type drugs the doctors use today. Because of this, the ‘Nurses’ on hand weren’t the, “Here’s you scalpel Mr. Doctor,” type nurses, they were there for the purpose of holding down the patient’s arms and legs, since many patients were known to flail during the experience, as people who are having a sharp stone slowly stabbed into the nerve center of their respective teeth are wont to do.
"Huh. The thing we use to create fire on wood also create pain on people. Interesting."
Not only that, but it is also theorized that the same ancient people who were dumb enough to think dentistry meant jabbing rocks into someone’s mouth, were also the same people dumb enough to do this shit so THEY COULD LOOK GOOD. The idea is, is that cavemen, being so infatuated with shiny beads and such, would try to take the whole beading thing to the next level, by inserting beads into their goddamn teeth, an idea that most likely sprang into their heads because their teeth, already being so shitty, were full of holes, and probably seemed like an inventing place to put beads anyway. Either that or they were hoping to alleviate tooth pain by releasing evil spirits.
Evil spirits like tooth decay, that is.
Y’know, whichever’s crazier (and trust me- shit got crazier). Now I don’t know which side created it, the dentists or the patients, but somewhere along the line, some dude just got fed up, and decided he didn’t really like the idea of having his ailments treated by a guy who didn’t know what was causing them in the first place, and couldn’t explain how the fuck his ‘treatment’ was supposed to help. And so was born the myth of- THE TOOTH WORM. The idea of the tooth worm is this- people’s teeth were full of holes, right? Well, what other animal makes holes? That’s right! Worms! The answer’s so obvious! There’s clearly a species of worm that climbs into your mouth and just burrows right on in, causing all sorts of trouble! And if you’re answer to the first question was anything other than worms, such as moles, or woodpeckers, then maybe you should just stop reading, because clearly you’re too silly to take this seriously. I mean tiny moles burrowing into your teeth? Hah! The very idea… now worms on the other hand, those slimy little bitches get around.
Okay, the worm thing I can buy, but little men mining the inside of my tooth is stretching it a bit.
True, the myth that you swallow like a hundred spiders in your sleep may be complete bullcrap now, but back then, all kinds of spiders and fly and bugs were crawling in people’s mouths, whether they were asleep or awake. The world was dirtier than a hipster’s ironic beard back then. How dirty, you might be asking? Well it was so dirty in fact, that the idea that the place one inhabits is so filthy, that a large number of bugs could periodically waltz in and just horse around in one’s mouth, lasted all around the globe, from when it was thought up in 5000 BC, until the freaking 1300s, when a famous French surgeon said it was totally, without a doubt, true, and the absolute reason as to why we have tooth decay. This theory was apparently good enough for people, and so they continued to go to their local dentist, who kept on with the whole ‘drilling’ thing until the Middle Ages began, when everybody attempting the craft everywhere just threw up their hands and said “Fuck it, I’ll be a farmer.” After that, getting treated for a toothache either meant chugging down some five dollar mystery elixir from a suspicious mustachioed salesman, or just kind of ripping the tooth out completely and rubbing some dirt in the hole.
Because fuck cavities.
Since dentistry was never even considered a medical subject at the time (it was just pulling teeth, you don’t call the tech guy on the phone the next ‘Steve Jobs’ just because he patronizingly knows you’re supposed to unplug the computer and then plug it back in again five minutes later), dentists didn’t even really exist, instead, the capitalistic market took care of everything, with barbers offering to take care of your tooth problem for you right along with your next shave. The market evolved more and more, until you actually just had shops dedicated towards ripping out peoples teeth, and then selling them to other people, as replacements (or, if the buyer was really twisted, jewelry).
For some people they're the same thing.
Now, tell me which is worse- someone taking a sharp stone and drilling holes into your teeth, slowly, and roughly, or someone taking a rudimentary prong-like metal tool, and using it to tear your individual teeth out by their roots- all this, once again, without any help from drugs (they didn’t even have the decency to at least hit you on the head and knock you out). The tool described is called the Pelican, and if it sounds like the product of an insane, unsupervised madman, then you’re not too far away from the truth, as it was invented by Guy de Chauliac, the exact same French boner-part (see what I did there) who thought that worms were living in peoples teeth.
He looks a little something like this.
The tools evolved even more, leading to the creation of the dental key in the 1700’s, which was kind of like that tool people use to open the cork on bottles of champagne, except the cork was your tooth (which would make the champagne your blood…? [I apologize to those readers with a weaker heart, and don’t like to see, let alone hear about blood, but, in my defense, maybe you should just grab your wallet, go down to the store, and pick up a set of balls you pansy]). This kind of shit, which could actually be considered torture by modern standards, finally started to go out the window in the 17- 1800s, when an extremely classy Frenchman showed up, physician Pierre Fauchard, who has been called the father of modern dentistry, due to his numerous contributions to, and overall development of, the oral science we still kind of hate today. He wrote several books on the subject, some of his most famous accomplishments being his introduction of dental fillings to the very short itinerary of possible dental operations, he also figured out that no, there is no such thing as a worm that lives in teeth, and that dental decay is in fact caused by the secret bad-ass, sugar, which while it may seem nice, and sweet, and harmless, actually has the effect of burning through your teeth like hydrochloric acid.
Sweet tooth, bro (Get it?).
While his advancements went far and wide in Europe, they didn’t really carry over so much to England, but, in a way, did have a big impact on America, as his creation of prosthetic teeth is the reason our first President was able to have a set of chompers made of some gnarley (see what I did there AGAIN) wood. Not really, actually the creation of tooth prosthetics just gave old people with bare gums something that could let them actually chew their hotdogs, instead of just dipping them in water and sliding them down the gullet. Dentistry has come a very long way since then, as I myself am proof of (what with my lack of wisdom teeth, and lower braces, and several fillings and whatnot. My mouth is like a patchwork of dental mishaps), but dentistry is still far from perfect, as I, and the bottle of Advil I crushed in less than a week, also prove. But focus on what I said earlier though- about ancient people’s teeth being supremely crappy (along with some of their hair-brained ideas), this fact is important and dare I say it, integral even, to your further education into this marvelous world of oral hygiene. You see, crappy teeth by today’s standards, as compared to way back when, are actually pretty good.
Back then, you wouldn't chew these if you forgot to brush, you'd chew these instead of brushing.
That smoker friend of yours, whose teeth are always yellow, and nasty, would look like a fucking Crest toothpaste advertisement back when living in a mud-hut made you the 1% of your tribe. Those ‘historically accurate’ movies you watch could get everything right, but I promise you, not a single goddamn one of them will get the teeth right, and you know why? Because that would require the movie studio to knock out three or four of Russell Crowe’s teeth, and make the rest look like Swiss cheese, so unless they proposed the possibility to him in a bar, with a corded telephone nearby, I don’t think it’d happen.
It's his eyes! I can't tell if he's angry, or he's going to break out in tears!
The point being, teeth were to our ancestors what social media sites (facebook, twitter, etc.) are to those of us living in a first-world country, a necessary tool for life, but still something that makes us feel shitty every time we use it. But as long as we have dentists there, to make us feel just a little shittier, so we can feel legitimately awesome afterwards, we’ll be alright. Oh, and for those of whom who are wondering why I didn’t give Thanksgiving that big of a hullabaloo as I did Halloween, it’s because:

A: Halloween is an actual fucking Holiday, Thanksgiving is something those assholes who killed all the Native Americans off had like, every other week, and we in the present just reworked to excuse one day of unabashed gluttony- you know what? Cracked says it best right here.

B: A month ago you celebrated a Holiday by stuffing your mouths with chocolate bars, and now you’re celebrating another one by stuffing your mouths with turkey, shit, just be happy this isn’t the History of Weight Watchers you chubby- I MEAN- trim and good looking people who will continue to read my essays and share some with your friends, ha ha ha… please?

Anyway, I’m going back to nursing my aching gums, and appreciating the fact that at least I, unlike my unfortunate Irish ancestors before me, have sweet, soothing (as I like to call it) Oxicotton, to drive those bad times away. Legally. Goodnight folks. 

I think this picture just about sums up my essay perfectly.

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