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Tooth Worms to Dental Plaque

For hundreds of years humans have tried to implement dental care. There is proof of ancient dentistry dating back over to 9,000, writings regarding the treatment of malocclusion from big brained Hypocrites and Socrates and proof that once upon a time the skills of a barber and a dentist were one and the same. What a difference several hundred years and evolution can make.

Fortunately, things have advanced since the earliest dentistry was practiced. Over the past century plus, humans have gained the common knowledge regarding the relationship between tooth decay and dental plaque and that practicing daily oral hygiene is the best way to boost dental health. While this may appear to be a common sense approach to dental care, it was not always the case and hundreds of years of misconception has lead to the formation of modern dentistry and skilled dentists up to practicing the task.

Tooth Worms, the 18th Century

The world’s earliest doctors were more aligned with magic than medicine as for hundreds of years superstition not scientific discovery helped dictate the health and dental treatments a medical professional would implement. During the 18th century the medical business was still archaic, doctors of the time period never heard of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, germs, or viruses and sterilization was not even a thought. It was also during this time period that primitive dentists thought that tooth worms were the cause of dental problems including tooth decay and gum disease, fortunately that is no longer case.

For thousands of years humans have struggle to figure out the cause of common dental problems, text from 5000 BC initially introduced the mythological “tooth worm” as the cause of cavities. During that time period and up to the Middle Ages, processed food was unheard of and the traditional diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, water and small amounts of lean meat from hunting and gathering that supported tooth health. The type of diet popular in the Bronze Age and Iron Age mostly kept dental plaque at bay, and when cavities started to pop up (thanks to the increase in foods such as maize and sugar cane), worms were thought to be the cause.

French dentist Pierre Fauchard is accredited to changing all that. Fauchard published his work “The Surgeon Dentist” in 1728 and discussed tooth anatomy, dental treatments such as tooth extractions and restoration and was the first to cast doubt on the tooth worm theory as he reviewed mouth scraping under a microscope and saw no evidence of worms. Fauchard was the first to see a relationship between cavities and sugar, suggested the best positions to sit in for dental exams and helped kick off the modern age of dentistry.

Discovery of Dental Plaque

Fauchard’s proclamations helped kick off new thinking in regards to oral health.  As more refined foods (flours, breads, candy) became common more people reported dental problems and dental cavities. The first connection between nutrition and dental health was marked in 1850 as historical documents of the time period has proven a sharp increase in dental caries in relationship to food.

Dentist Willoughby Dayton Miller decided to delve into the science of oral health and the publishing of The Microorganisms of the Human Mouth helped lay the groundwork for modern dentistry. Miller focused his research on the original theories posed by Fauchard. Based on the original thoughts and Miller’s research he hypothesized that “chemico-parasitic” caused of cavities. That thought provided the foundation for future dental research and to the knowledge we have today.

Advancements in Plaque Removal

Once Miller theories were introduced to the world, other folks interested in dental care helped prove him right by identifying strains (like Fernando E. Rodriguez Vargas did in1921). Now everyone knows that dental plaque, a community of oral bacteria that has banded together to help digest simple sugars deposited on teeth after eating or drinking, is the cause of many dental problems.

That  knowledge that has encouraged other advancements throughout the dental care industry including the introduction of dental floss, the mass production of toothbrushes and the fluoridation of public water supplies. It is also why dental exams, check-ups and professional cleanings are in order; not only will that allow for a dental hygienist or dentist to manually remove dental plaque that has been converted to hard-to-remove dental tartar and provide a dental expert the opportunity to implement preventative dentistry when needed.

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