From Ivory to Porcelain: Dental Prosthetics Have Come a Long Way

Dental ImplantWe take our modern dental treatments for granted — it took years of trial and error to get to this point, with modest successes and, sometimes, brutal failures along the way. The evolution of dental prosthetics was a slow process. It took years before dentists developed treatment methods that were not only durable but were safe for the patient as well.

Take a look at veneers: Hertfordshire practitioners today can finish the treatment in just a few visits, leaving their patients with an attractive new smile. Modern veneers and most crowns use a hardwearing porcelain composite, which mimics the strength and colour of real teeth. They have been around since 1928, but it is only with the advent of modern materials that they have become a mainstay of many cosmetic dental practices.

The materials matter just as much as the techniques used in dental prosthetics.

Corpse Teeth and Ivory

Dental prosthetics, which include crowns, dentures, veneers and dental implants, had a long and difficult history. The earliest prosthetics were made by the Egyptians, who used human teeth threaded with golden wire.

This practice continued well into the 14th century, during the Renaissance era. Back in 2010, a team of archaeologists from the University of Pisa discovered several skeletons with dentures that used human teeth.

The problem with human teeth is that they were often procured from corpses or taken from slaves or criminals. The practice exposed the patient to all sorts of diseases because of cross-contamination.

In the 1700s, dentists were using carved ivory. George Washington, the first president of the US, famously wore ivory dentures.

The Rise of Porcelain

Dental ceramics began appearing sometime during the 1800s but did not gain popularity because of its brittleness. It had a tendency to chip and to crack, making it an unfavourable material compared to stronger, natural materials like ivory. Instead, people used metal amalgams and gold.

By the 1990s, however, modern techniques allowed dental laboratories to produce extremely durable ceramics that have unprecedented biocompatibility and hardness. Zirconia is a common addition because it created a visually pleasing, yet hard, material that rivalled natural teeth.

Modern dental prosthetics will only continue to evolve as stronger materials are developed.