The History of Dentistry

We live in the 21st century, a time where high-tech is almost as much a part of our lives as breathing.  We’ve become accustomed to all things new and modern–including dentistry. But the fact is, dentistry has been around for thousands of years, moving from a primitive form of medicine to the modern preventative practice we know today.

Dental History - Egyptian


Dental History:  The (Really) Early Years

Long ago, as in 5000 BC, dental pain or tooth decay was often attributed to “tooth worms” and other similar maladies. An ancient Egyptian scribe known as Hesy-Re is often referred to as the first known dentist, as his tombstone included the title “the greatest of those who deal with teeth and of physicians.”  This discovery was the first ever reference to such a profession.

Hippocrates and Aristotle wrote about dentistry between 500 and 300 BC, documenting the pattern of tooth eruption in humans, how to treat gum disease and the treatment or removal of decayed teeth.

From Monks to Barbers…and the Father of Modern

Father of Modern Dentistry Pierre Fauchard

Pierre Fauchard


In the Middle Ages, around 500-1000 AD, dentist was practiced by monks, as they were the most educated people of the period. By 1130 AD, however, monks were disallowed to practice dentistry, and barbers (yep–the kind who cut hair!)  took over. Barbers, you see, had previously assisted monks in dentistry, as they had access to sharp knives and razors that were useful for surgery.  The Guild of Barbers was established in France in 1210, which later split into two groups: lay barbers and those who were specially trained. As time went on, lay barbers were prohibited practicing most dental procedures.

In 1530, the first “textbook” of dentistry was published in Germany.  Students were able to learn about oral hygiene and the latest treatments of the day.  It took nearly 200 years before French surgeon Pierre Fauchard created another text focusing on the anatomy and function of the mouth as well as restorative techniques for teeth.  Fauchard has often been called “The Father of Modern Dentistry” as a result of his work.

Early dentists in the U.S. include Paul Revere

Portrait of Paul Revere

History of Dentistry in the U.S.

While you probably wouldn’t recognize the names of the men who were the first dentists in America, you’ll probably recognize the name of this dentist: Paul Revere.  That’s right!  The man we know for his famous ride placed advertisements in a Boston newspaper to advertise his dental services in 1768.  Unfortunately, patients may not have been particularly of comfortable in Revere’s day, as the first dental chair wasn’t invented until 1790.

The U.S. also lays claim to the world’s first dental school.  The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, which established the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree in 1840. (Baltimore is also home to the National Museum of Dentistry.)  Licensing became a requirement soon after, and anesthesia came into use during that time as well. The first woman to earn a DDS, Lucy Beaman Hobbs, graduated from the Ohio College of Dental Surgery in 1866.

So as you can see, dentistry has a long and intriguing history and, we believe, a great future ahead.

Dr. Cody Haslam is a family dentist practicing in Billings, Montana.  He is currently accepting new dental patients.  For more information, please schedule your appointment today online or phone (406) 652-7313.