Dentistry has not reached the point it is at today without some very important founding fathers whose dedication to science and anatomy led to discoveries about our teeth and how to keep them healthy. Pierre Fauchard is easily the most important modern dentist in history. This French physician is known as the “father of modern dentistry.” He was born in 1678 and in 1728, he wrote a very influential book called The Surgeon Dentist in which he covered dental anatomy, pathology, operative dentistry, and even topics in periodontics and orthodontics. This was the first comprehensive scientific description of dentistry. Keeping his legacy today, the Pierre Fauchard Academy is an international dental organization and is known widely for its leadership within dental circles.
Another big name in the history of dentistry is Edward Hartley Angle, born in 1855. He is known as the “father of modern orthodontics.” Edward dedicated his life to standardizing, teaching, and practicing orthodontics. Known for his Angles Classification which is still used widely today by both general dentists and orthodontists, he also created the term ‘malocclusion’, which is used today. Angle went on to invent many appliances for orthodontic treatment and devised numerous surgical techniques.
The ‘father of operative dentistry’ is Greene Vardiman Black, born in 1836. He wrote papers and created classifications that are still used by dentists today, ‘Black’s Classification of Carious Lesions’. He is known for the principles of tooth preparation and perfected dental amalgam and investigate fluorosis.
John Henry “Doc” Holliday is better known for hanging around with Wyatt Earp in America’s Wild West as a gambler and gunfighter but did you know he was also a dentist. Born in 1851, Doc Holliday was a practicing dentist until he caught tuberculosis and was forced to stop treating patients. He obtained his dental qualification in 1872 from Philadelphia. His apparent involvement in the O.K. Corral Gunfight in 1881 is probably his most infamous historical moment.
William Thomas Green Morton was born in 1819 and was an American dentist who first demonstrated the use of ether as a general anesthetic for use in surgery in 1846. Thus, he is sometimes referred to as the “discoverer of anesthesia.” After Morton conducted his first ‘painless’ tooth extraction using ether, another demonstration was arranged at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is now known as the ‘Ether Dome.’
Born in 1815, another American dentist also famous in the field of anesthesia, and who actually associated with Morton for a time, was Horace Wells. Unlike Morton, Wells was not famous for ether, but rather for his use of Nitrous Oxide. Like Morton, Wells attempted to demonstrate his findings at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1845, but unfortunately incorrectly administered the Nitrous Oxide to his patient and his attempt failed. He refused to give up though and had another try later to prove that his findings were in fact true and to obtain credit from the American Dental Association. If at first you don’t succeed, try again!