2017 is Truly the Year to Celebrate 150 Years

by Ralph Crawford

On July 1, 2017 Canada celebrated its 150 years of Confederation. The early struggles to bring our vast country together was indeed a wonderful achievement. John A. Macdonald was the leading figure which resulted in the British North America Act that gave birth to Canada as a nation and he was the first prime minister of the new nation.

Just one day later – July 2, 1867 – 31 dentists attended a meeting in Cobourg, Ontario where the main business was the adoption of the report and constitution and bylaws, whereby the Ontario Dental Association came into being. It was the not only the first organization of dentists in Canada but the first dental act to be adopted anywhere in the world. As pointed out by Dr. James Shosenberg, former editor of the Ontario Dentist, the purpose of the new Association was described in its constitution and laid the ground work for dentistry for the next 150 years:

“This Association is instituted with the view of promoting professional and social intercourse among Dental Practitioners in the Province of Ontario, Dominion of Canada, and to encourage a disposition for investigation on their part in every direction which relates to the principles and practice of the profession and collateral science.”

Instrumental in bringing the Ontario dentists together to form the Association was Dr. Barnabas Day, often referred to as “The father of dentistry in Ontario”. Day, born on a farm near Kingston, first apprenticed as a dentist in Kingston in 1855 and later graduated with a medical degree from Queen’s College.

Barnabas Day

Following the 1867 founding of the Ontario Dental Association the remaining nine dental association licensing bodies from across Canada soon found their way into legal status: Quebec 1868, Manitoba 1883, New Brunswick 1890, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in 1891, Newfoundland 1893, Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1906 and British Columbia in 1908. In September 1902 over 350 dentists – representing more than 20 per cent of the dentists throughout Canada – came to Montreal, many by train, for a three day meeting that ultimately saw the foundation of the Canadian Dental Association. Dr. F.A. Stevenson and Dr. Eudore Dubeau served as the Association’s first president and secretary.

ODA Annual Spring Meeting
This year, May 4 – 6, 2017 the Ontario Dental Association (ODA) celebrated its 150th Annual Spring Meeting (ASM) in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The first scientific meeting associated with the ASM took place in 1889 in London, Ontario and it included presentations, clinical demonstrations and entertainment. The ASM continued to grow each year as was certainly evident for the 150th. This year saw more than 13,000 dental personnel and participating in 115 lectures and visiting the exhibit hall where over 330 exhibitors occupied 663 booths.
And when you stop at booth after booth viewing the very latest in dental technology, and then consider it’s the 150th ASM, let us take a look at how the dentistry we know today has evolved from the past.

150 Years: The Dental Drill
Holes have been drilled into teeth for thousands of years presumably to relieve pain. Early evidence of tooth drilling was uncovered in a Pakistan graveyard dating back to 7000 BC where molar teeth had symmetrical holes with concentric grooving that indicated the use of a primitive tool. Evidence indicated that a bow drill was used to
drill teeth.

Primitive Bow Drill – 7000 BC

One of the first North American drills was Amos Westcott’s 1834 finger drill which is estimated to achieve about 80 rpm.

Westcott Finger Drill, 1834

A step forward from Westcott’s finger drill was developed by a British dentist George Harrison in 1864. This was the first clockwork drill that after winding up, would run for about two minutes. However, it required both hands to operate and the noise of the machine was very disturbing to patients. Harrison’s drill never gained much popularity.

George Harrison Clockwork Drill 1864

Dr. James Morrison’s Dental Drill, 1871

The first electric dental drill was devised and patented by Dr. George Green in Kalamazoo, Missouri in 1875. The drill could reach speeds up to 3,000 rpm but it took 25 to 30 years before dentists made the switch from pedal-driven to electric belt driven drills. The next big breakthrough for dental drills didn’t occur until the early 1950s when Dr. Robert Nelson, while working at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC, by using a stream of water at almost two gallons a minute, developed a hand-piece turbine – the TurboJet – that could achieve up to 60,000 rpm.

And then a whole new era of dentistry was born with the invention of the air-driven hand piece by Dr. John Borden of Washington DC. A dentist in the US Navy in World War II, Borden spent years developing his concept of using an air turbine rather than pulleys to spin a bur at speeds up to 250,000 rpm. In 1957 the Dental Supply Company negotiated an exclusive agreement to manufacture and distribute the Borden Airotor and then contracted with the S.S. White and Ritter companies to produce the controls and distribute to the dental trade.

The high-speed dental drill, with its demand on a dental assistant to clear the water spray on the dental field, introduced a whole new conept of dental care: four handed, four eyed, sit down dentistry.

Two Great Discoveries 150 Years Ago That Would Change the Course of Dentisty

Dr. Horace Wells

Nitrous Oxide
On December 10, 1844 Dr. Horace Wells, a dentist in Hartford, Conneticut, accepted an invitation calling all good citizens to attend an evening of entertainment in the town hall. The evening, produced by Gardner Colton, was advertised as A Grand Exhibition of the Effects Produced by Inhaling Nitrous Oxide, or Laughing Gas. During the show eight young men inhaled the gas and performed various antics on stage. One of the men, Samuel Cooley, was a friend of Wells and during the performance he caught his leg on a bench which sent him sprawling. The shock brought him to his senses and only then did he notice a large gash on his leg that was bleeding profusely. At no time did Cooley notice any pain.

A light must have gone on in Well’s mind. The next day he invited the entertainer Gardner Colton to bring some of the gas and apparatus to his dental office. Wells himself inhaled enough of the gas to allow his friend, Dr. John Riggs, to extract one of Wells’ teeth. And there was no pain. The beginning of painless dentistry!

At about the same time that Horace Wells discovered surgery without pain, another New Englander, Charles Goodyear, was experimenting with a material that was growing in poularity – rubber. He was rather a ner’do-well salesman looking for some venture that would make him millions. At this particular time he was attempting to use the new found material from South America – rubber – to make life jackets. But like others, he had found it difficult to control the material. It was fine in temperate climates but ran soft in heat and was brittle in the cold.

Charles Goodyear

On this particular day, Goodyear was experimenting on his wife’s kitchen stove with a rubber-sulphur mixture. Accidentally, some of the rubber-sulphur mixture fell upon the hot stove and somewhat miraculously, instead of being consumed and destroyed, it assumed a new quality. The charred piece of rubber remained flexible, even in the cold. It was Charles’ brother, Nelson Goodyear, who patented vulcanization in 1851.

Thus, 150 years ago, two great developments, surgery without pain and an inexpensive manner of making cosmetic durable dentures, changed the course of dentistry.

150 Years: Is Cosmetic Dentistry New?
The earliest known full dentures date back to the 17th century. They were carved from solid ivory – usually walrus or elephant tusk – very difficult to wear and were anything but “cosmetic”.

The natural ivory stained quickly and darkened and was replaced by what was to become known as Waterloo Teeth as they were harvested from fallen soldiers at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Waterloo Teeth 1815

Solid Ivory Lower Denture With Embeded Waterloo Anteriors

A great deal changed in 1808 when Italian dentist Giuseppangelo Fonzi developed the first porcelain teeth with an attached platinum pin that could be embedded into an ivory base. This was improved upon by Claudius Ash in England in 1837.

Solid Ivory Base With Embedded Porcelain Teeth

As noted above, Charles Goodyear’s perfection of vulcanization gave the dental profession the material for which they had been searching for years. Not only was vulcanite inexpensive but what was more important, the moulding of it into dentures required neither unusual skill nor expensive equipment. Almost anyone could make vulcanite dentures in a few weeks. And what was even more important, false teeth were no longer what only the rich could enjoy. Even the poorer people no longer had to endure the prospect of a toothless old age.

Vulcanite Denture

Vulcanite dentures remained the option for false teeth until the development of polymethyl methacrylate by Dr. Walter Bauer in the 1930s.

150 Years – Dental Instruments
Dental instruments go back 1000’s of years as shown in the box of typical instruments from the Roman era.

Outlined below are various examples of scalers, elevators and probes with wooden and ivory handles from the 1850s.

A common extraction tool 150 years ago was the dental key. Modeled after a door key, the dental key was used by inserting the instrument horizontally into the mouth, then its “claw” would tighten over the tooth. The instrument was then rotated to loosen the tooth.

The dental key was replaced with the forceps below in the late 1800s.

150 Years – Dental Chairs
It is said that in ancient times chairs were not always used for dental treatment – particularly dental extractions. Often the patient would sit on the ground and the dentist would proceed. This was particularly so for lower extractions. The dentist would sit on the ground and the patient would lay on their back with their head between the knees of the dentist.

The January 1973 the Journal of the American Dental Association printed a superb article on the history of dental chairs and we are proud to reprint several of the photos. Below, a converted armchair with a built-in headrest and “working shelf” on the right arm that was adapted and used by Boston USA dentist Dr. Josiah Flagg in the early 1800s.

Dr. Josiah Flagg Chair Early 1800s

Whitcomb Chair in Late 1860s

First chair that could be raised and lowered with the patient in it. Could be reclined backward about 60 degrees and sideways 40 degrees. A foot lever was used to lock the chair in position.

Upholstered Chair 1880s

McConnell Folding Chair Early 1900s

Wooden Chair 1880s

150 Years: Tooth Brushes
The toothbrush in its simplest form has been around for thousands of years. Ancient literature suggests that in the beginning, small sticks mashed on one end were suitable oral hygiene tools. Hippocrates (460-377 BC) recommended using a small ball of wool moistened in honey and then rinsing with dill, aniseed, myrrh and white wine. Around 580 AD Muhammad suggested using a water-soaked twig of the Salvador persica tree. This type of twig is still used in many Muslim inhabited areas.

The Siwak Toothbrush

The bristle toothbrush, similar to what is used today, made its appearance in China around the early 1500s. Its bristles were from hog’s necks and attached to bone or bamboo handles. William Addis (1734-1808), an English entrepreneur, is said to be the first in 1780 to mass-produce the toothbrush as we somewhat know it today. The brush handle was bone complete with bristles.

Toothbrush From the Early 1800s

When Willaim Addis died in 1808 he left the business to his son and it stayed in the family until 1996. The company, known today as Wisdom Toothbrushes, produces more than 70 million toothbrushes a year in the United Kingdom.

And thinking of 150 years, the first American to patent a toothbrush was H.N. Wadsworth in 1857. In 1935, Wallace Carothers, a chemist working for the DuPont chemical company, invented the polymer that eventually became know as nylon that replaced animal bristles and revolutionized the toothbrush industry.

150 Years: Toothpaste
Interestingly, like so many aspects of our human lives, the desire for a clean mouth goes back thousands of years. It is said that the Egyptians are belived to have started using a paste to clean their teeth around 5000 BC. It is recorded that some ancient toothpastes contained powders of ox hooves, ashes, burnt eggshells and even crushed bones and oyster shells. The development of toothpastes in modern times started in the 1800s with early versions in jars that contained soap, chalk and even betel nut. Around the mid 1900s, the soap was replaced with ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate to make it a smooth paste.

Washington Sheffield (1827-1897) an outstanding American dentist, is known for inventing modern toothpaste. In the mid 1850s, along with his son Lucius Sheffield, he is said to be the first person to place the pastes in collapsible tubes.

In 1896, Colgate & Company began selling its own ready-made toothpaste in collapsible tubes similar to Dr. Sheffield. Toothpastes containing fluoride were first introduced in 1914.

150 Years – Dental Fillings
In reviewing dental history, it appears that various materials and methods going back thousands of years have been attempted to fill decayed teeth. One of the first successful methods is attributed to Dr. Robert Arthur of Baltimore, Maryland. In 1855, he originated the cohesive gold method. He inserted portions of gold foil through a flame before inserting into the cavity and plugging with pressure.

Gold Foil Pellets

One of the difficulties Dr. Arthur faced in the placement of cohesive gold foil was the requirement to keep the restoration perfectly dry. This difficulty was solved by Dr. Sanford Barnum of New York in 1864. Both the gold foil method and rubber dam techniques exist to this day.

Rubber Dam Complete With Frame 1920s

The well-known dental amalgam has been around for many centuries. There is some evidence that amalgam was used in China as early as the 7th century and in Germany about the early 1500s. The early amalgam was made by mixing silver coins with mercury. Two English natives, Edward and Moses Crawcour brought amalgam to United States in 1833 and by 1844 it was reported that over 50 percent of all dental restorations placed in New York were dental amalgam.

Jars of Silver and Mercury for Amalgams

Early amalgam was formulated by hand out of shaved silver coins mixed with the amount of mercury the dentist felt it needed. The mixture often expanded and would crack the teeth. It was G.V. Black (1836-1915) who in 1896 laid the foundation for the correct formulation of silver and mercury that literally revolutionized the profession. Black’s mercury formula and restorative dentist’s principle “extension for prevention” did a great deal to make dentistry affordable to the average citizen. However, the controversy regarding the effects of mercury on health and well-being continues to this day and the use of amalgam fillings has decreased.

Dr. G.V. Black

With cosmetic dentistry possibly still an issue with anterior amalgam fillings, in England in 1871, Thomas Flether introduced plastic fillings called silicate cement. Silicate’s qualities were never ideal but it was the dental material of choice until the development of composite resins in the early 1960s and glass-ionmer cements in the 1970s.

150 Years – X-rays
In 1895 William Roentgen, a German professor of physics, while studying the phenomena accompanying the passage of an electric current through a gas of extremely low pressure, discovered what we know today as an X-ray. And 122 years later we all know the impact X-rays have had on health. For his outstanding achievement Roentgen was honoured by being the first person to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.

The first dental X-ray of a living person was taken by by New Orleans dentist C. Edmond Kells in 1896. Tragically, after repeatedly holding X-ray film with his fingers he developed cancer and spent 20 years battling the disease before his death at age 72 in 1928.

Weber Dental X-ray Unit 1920s

150 Years: Dental Floss
Again, the story of dental floss isn’t new. Like tooth brushes and tooth paste, floss goes back to prehistoric times. It is thought that horse hair was used as floss and twigs used as toothpicks to clear the teeth.

The modern use of dental floss is credited to New Orleans dentist, Dr. Levi Spear Parmly, who in 1819, introduced using waxed silken thread between the teeth to dislodge that irritating matter which no brush can remove. In 1882 unwaxed silk floss was mass produced by Codman and Shurleftl, a Boston company founded in 1838. The first dental patent for dental floss was granted to Johnson and Johnson in 1898. 2013 statistics from the American Dental Association indicate that 18.5 percent of people do not floss at all – it’s their loss.

Yes Indeed, Let’s Celebrate 150 Years!
There is no doubt that the year 2017 is a time to celebrate – great and wonderful things have happened over the last 150 years! On July 1, 1867 our great country of Canada entered into Confederation and the very next day, July 2, 1867, the Ontario Dental Association came into being. Leading up to and during Canada Day let us be grateful we live in the best country in the world.

And as part of the dental community, and as we review and recall how the profession has evolved over those many years (beyond and up to today), may we be ever thankful that so much effort and dedication has taken place that enhances the oral health of Canadian citizens every day.

About the Author
Ralph Crawford is a 1964 Honours Graduate from the University of Manitoba and has enjoyed a varied dental career. Prior to being editor of the Canadian Dental Association from 1989 to 1997, he operated a Winnipeg private practice concurrently with being a clinical instructor at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Dentistry. He served as President of both Manitoba Dental Association and the Canadian Dental Association. Throughout his entire dental career Ralph and his wife Olga have keen collectors of dental artifacts and in 2008 their entire collection found a home within the Museum of Health Care at Kingston. Many of the artifacts shown within the article are part of the Museum’s Crawford Collection.