When we talk about modern orthodontic treatment, we are often quick to point out how today’s options are far more comfortable and discreet than ever before. Traditional braces especially have come along in leaps and bounds, and are now available in several different varieties, from metal to lingual and even ceramic. Patients can even choose removable clear aligners for the ultimate in convenient, subtle treatment. But even the bulkier, uncomfortable options of the recent past do not seem so bad when you consider what used to pass for orthodontic treatment! Once upon a time, creating a straight smile depended on materials like catgut and crude metal, or if you were really fancy, gold wire.

Craig & Streight Orthodontics may be all about using the latest in technology and technique to give patients a beautiful, functional smile, but it can be a lot of fun to take a look back at where it all began. Evidence of the very first attempts at manipulating crooked teeth into more desirable positions has been found in remains that are close to 50,000 years old. That means that before the days of self-ligating systems and clear aligner therapy, there were centuries of attempts at correcting poorly aligned teeth and jaws. Whether the goal was to improve chewing, speaking, or the overall appearance of their patient, let us take a closer look at the way some of these earliest orthodontists worked!

Ancient orthodontics

Orthodontics goes way, way back. The earliest Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans have been found sporting ancient orthodontic gear, and even Hippocrates was in on the action! The ancient Greek physician wrote the very first known description of tooth irregularities, way back in about 400 B.C. Classical Greek philosopher Socrates also made mention of orthodontics when he described a gold band some Etruscan women used to preserve the position of the teeth after death in his work. The Roman writer Celsus had a less sanitary method and recommended using the fingers to push newly emerging teeth into their proper position. (Thankfully he never bothered to share his thoughts on what to use as a retainer.)

Interest in the 18th century

There was a long lull in progress for orthodontics until the 18th century, at which point a positive flurry of development in dental techniques occurred. Along the way, however, there were some flops, like the bandeau. Written about by pioneering French dentist Pierre Fauchard in 1728, this horseshoe-shaped piece of metal was placed outside the teeth and string or wire used to tie the teeth to the arch. The bandeau was a bit similar to modern braces in that it relied on steady pressure over time to move teeth, but it was not adjustable and was very difficult to use for moving individual teeth in different directions. Fauchard was also known for operating on patients with a set of forceps he called a “pelican.” This instrument forcibly realigned the teeth, and Fauchard would then tie them to the adjacent teeth to hold them in place while they healed. Does not make wires and brackets seem so bad, does it?

teeth mold

For all its faults, the bandeau was used for almost a hundred years before finally going out of fashion when Christophe-François Delabarre developed the wire crib in 1819. This was essentially the birth of contemporary orthodontics. The crib was made of wires, often metal, that had been bent and then soldered together to make a sort of cage that fit tightly over and around the teeth. Strings or metal springs could then be attached and used to apply a constant force to teeth, slowly moving them into new, improved positions. Although it was quite basic compared to today’s technology, the wire crib worked in much the same way as contemporary braces and aligners and is actually the precursor of several of today’s appliances.

By the late 1800’s, orthodontics was gaining steam in both theory and practice. Edward Hartley Angle, considered by many to be the father of modern orthodontics, was able to identify the true properties of malocclusions, or misalignments, of the teeth and jaws in around 1880. These were addressed with an increasingly effective set of orthodontic appliances that continues even now!

The path to modern orthodontics

The 19th century brought significant orthodontic contributions to the United States. In 1822, J.S. Gunnell invented what he called “occipital anchorage,” which was a form of headgear that fastened to the jaw from the outside of the mouth and exerted gentle pressure on the teeth. Charles Goodyear came up with vulcanized rubber in 1839, and it did not take long for orthodontists to realize its potential. Just a few years later, E.G. Tucker became the first American dentist to use rubber in his orthodontic appliances. In 1840, “The Dental Art” was published. A classic book on dentistry, author Chapin A. Harris was the first to outline practices like soldering knobs on bands to assist with tooth rotation and applying gold caps to molars to open the dental bite.

Here, orthodontic appliances hit a wall. Although there were tremendous strides made in understanding precisely how the teeth and jaws worked over the next century, braces themselves were kind of stuck in a rut. The materials used remained mostly unchanged, generally consisting of gold, platinum, silver, steel, gum rubber, or vulcanite, but early orthodontists sometimes used ivory, zinc, copper, brass, or even wood instead. Up until the 1970s, orthodontists would anchor brackets by winding wires around each individual tooth, but the invention of dental adhesives enabled them to switch to sticking brackets to the surfaces of the teeth instead.

Meanwhile, stainless steel replaced gold and silver as the most popular choice for wires thanks to its shapeability. This cut the costs of braces significantly, making them much more widely available. Lingual braces also came along in the 1970’s. These were the first orthodontic appliances to address aesthetics by running along the inside of the teeth’s surfaces rather than the outer surface. Lingual braces are still an excellent choice for patients looking for a more discreet treatment option!

Brothers smiling for a photo

Straight smiles with no fuss with Craig & Streight Orthodontics

Wanting a healthy, functional smile is clearly nothing new. Humans have been striving for a way to straighten teeth going back centuries, and well-aligned teeth and jaws are just as important today as they were back when Fauchard was trying out his bandeau models. Craig & Streight Orthodontics is proud to be part of such an established tradition of improving oral health and the lives of those we are able to treat. With offices in Norman, Mustang, and South OKC, we have got everything you need to help you find your smile’s place in history!