As dental professionals, our ultimate goal is for every one of our patients to live their whole lives without losing their teeth. However, in the unfortunate situation that a patient is missing their teeth, dentures are a great solution to return a smile to beauty and function. Dentures have a long and legendary history, and modern technology has made today’s dentures even more natural-looking and customized than ever before.
The earliest examples of dentures appeared in the 7th Century B.C. The ancient Etruscans used a combination of gold wire and human and animal teeth to create these early dentures. By the 5th Century B.C., ancient Romans were creating similar dentures. Wooden dentures appeared in Japan in the early 1500s. These dentures were similar to modern dentures in that they were carefully carved to match the shape of a person’s mouth. The Japanese later made dentures from stone, ivory and animal horn in addition to wood.
The number of people who need dentures has grown pretty quickly over the last few hundred years. As access to sugar and tobacco increased, mostly because of large sugar cane and tobacco plantations in the Americas, tooth decay became more common and widespread. The more people ate sugar and smoked, the more their teeth fell out. It makes sense that modern dentistry started to be developed around the same time.
Affordable dentures are a recent thing. For most of the history of dentures, they were an item reserved for the upper classes. The materials and expertise required to make them made dentures very expensive.
Contrary to popular belief, the first U.S. President, George Washington, did not have dentures made of wood. His dentures were made from carved hippopotamus ivory, gold wire, and human teeth. In fact, most dentures in the 1700s and 1800s were made with other people’s teeth, which had either been collected from bodies on battlefields or even stolen from graves! Thankfully, early dentists started developing porcelain dentures, which eventually eliminated the need to take teeth from the dead or those down on their luck.
Today, dentures are made from a specialized form of acrylic (a kind of durable, hard plastic) that can be made to look just like natural teeth and gums. While most dentures are held in place by friction/suction or adhesives, there are now dentures that can be held in place by mini dental implants. These implant-supported dentures are more secure and can even help prevent tooth-loss-related bone loss. The invention of dental implants in the last century also means that many people who might have gotten dentures in the past are replacing their teeth entirely with permanent prosthetic teeth, complete with a titanium tooth root.
We hope this history of dentures has made you grateful for the advances in modern dentistry. We certainly are!