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dentistry

dentistry, treatment and care of the teeth and associated oral structures. Dentistry is mainly concerned with tooth decay, disease of the supporting structures, such as the gums, and faulty positioning of the teeth. Like medicine and surgery, it is practiced in specialized fields: oral surgery, orthodontics (corrective dentistry), periodontics (diseases of the gums), prosthodontics (partial or total tooth replacement), endodontics (treatment of dental pulp chamber and canals), and pedodontics (dental problems of children).

Some researchers believe that there is clear evidence of dental drilling in human teeth found in Pakistan that date to 7000 B.C., but unquestioned evidence of dentistry is found only from subsequent millenia. Excellent crowns and bridges were made by the Etruscans in the 7th cent. B.C. At about that time, teeth were being extracted in Asia Minor as a cure for bodily ills and diseases. Skills achieved by the Etruscans, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were largely lost during the Middle Ages, when barbers and roving bands of charlatans practiced unskilled dentistry at marketplaces and fairs. Abulcasis, a Spanish Moor, was one of the few in his time who studied dental surgery, leaving behind instruments and theories quite advanced for the 10th cent. A.D.

French scientist Pierre Fauchard is considered the founder of modern dentistry; by the end of the 17th cent., he was making fillings of lead, tin, and gold and devising artificial dentures. In the 18th cent., German scientist Philip Pfaff was making dentures of plaster of Paris, and shortly thereafter the French discovered how to mold porcelain into dentures. The first American to make use of this process was Charles Willson Peale; he who made the now-famous set of false teeth for George Washington.

As dentistry progressed, the center of accomplishment shifted from Europe to the United States. The first dental school in the world was established in Baltimore in 1840. The development of local and general anesthesia, the invention of the drilling machine, discovery of better substances for filling teeth (amalgam and gold), and, most importantly, the ability to devise replacements closely approximating natural teeth in function and appearance contributed much to the rapid growth of dentistry as a science and an art. Adding fluoride to the local water supply (fluoridation) has made teeth more resistant to cavities; annual applications of fluoride and clear liquid plastic to children's teeth also make them more decay resistant.

New developments include the implantation of artificial teeth or binding posts into the gums or jawbone; antibiotic fiber for periodontal disease; root canal surgery, a procedure that ameliorates pain while permitting teeth to remain in place; and nearly painless lasers to repair dental cavities, usually making local anesthesia unnecessary. In the early 1990s, it was reported that five patients of a Florida dentist with AIDS became infected with HIV; as a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ruled that full protective garb (gloves, mask, glasses or goggles, coat) be worn by dental personnel to protect patients and themselves.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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