Because of changing oral health care practices over time, dental health has drastically improved in recent decades. Tooth decay and tooth loss occur less often than in the early days of dentistry. Much advancement in dentistry is due to modern technology and evidence-based dental research.
The field of dentistry began in the 1700s, and mainly consisted of making dentures and pulling teeth. In the earliest days of dentistry, dentists often resorted to pulling teeth because they did not possess the technology we have today to save teeth. Tooth extractions often alleviated pain associated with tooth decay and infections. Dental instruments used for pulling teeth in the early days of dentistry were similar to forceps. Around the mid 1800s, dentists began using nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, to alleviate pain during tooth extractions.
The introduction of modern technology paved the way for dentistry forever. Advances in modern dentistry from the earliest days of the profession were stimulated in part by the creation of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, or NIDCR, founded in 1948. This organization funded scientific advances in dentistry, which played a critical role in improving dental sealants, water fluoridation, acid-etch bonding, periodontal disease treatments, and pain control. X-ray machines were used to detect cavities and impacted wisdom teeth. Orthodontics gave dentists the ability to use braces to correct misaligned teeth for health and cosmetic purposes.
Evidence-based scientific research combined with biotechnology has taken dentistry to the next level. New technologies used to help detect early tooth decay include digital imaging fiber optic trans-illumination, which uses a bright light with a sensor, and digital imaging — which utilizes a handheld laser probe — to detect tooth decay. Quantitative light-induced fluorescence combines fluorescent dye, a camera and computer software to detect mineral loss and tooth decay. Lasers are some of the newest technological advances used in dentistry to help remove tooth decay, strengthen fillings, reshape gums, perform biopsies and whiten teeth. Laser dentistry may help reduce pain and anxiety in patients who fear dental drills, and minimize bleeding during some dental treatments. Dental implants are available to replace decaying or missing teeth, and can improve the appearance of your smile, reduce speech difficulties, and make eating more comfortable.