Thursday, February 16, 2012

Time for Braces!

Sheva Apelbaum My New Braces
I’ve tried guerrilla warfare,  Machiavellian scheming and plotting, shuttle diplomacy, and even passive resistance, but I lost the battle against my crooked teeth.  I knew that I would eventually have to get some form of orthodontics. After having had a few different expanders, I finally got braces.
The day I got them, I had to leave school early. It only took an hour to put them on.  The most difficult part was having to keep my mouth open for a long time while they painted my teeth with a glue and then they stuck the braces brackets on. When I was done with all of that, they let me pick a color to insert into my braces to make them colorful. I picked silver because I didn’t want it to be too colorful.

On the way home, my mom started to wonder out loud about how early in history had people made attempts to correct misaligned teeth and about dentistry in general. She asked me if I knew anything about the history of orthodontics or oral implants. I said that I didn’t know much about it, so she told me I should do some research.  So I did and in the process, I learned a few really interesting facts. Prepare to be amazed.  It turns out that the history of orthodontics, implants, and false teeth goes back a long way—possibly as far back as 4,000 years ago!

Sheva Apelbaum Ancient Egyptian Dental Work

Since ancient times, people have been trying to find ways to fix crooked and missing teeth. The earliest evidence we have is an amazingly detailed dental work on a mummy that archaeologists have dated to 2000 BCE.  The work shows intricate gold work around the teeth. This mummy was found with two donor teeth that had holes drilled into them. Wires were strung through the holes and then around the neighboring teeth. Presumably, when the wires were to have been removed, the teeth would have looked more or less straight.

Phoenician denture, c 1000-210 BC.

Almost a thousand years later, the Phoenicians practiced a similar technique. They made dentures from a variety of materials.  We have evidence of such work dating back as early as 1000 BCE.

Sheva Apelbaum Tooth implantation in a Mayan man Sheva Apelbaum Implantation of colored stones in the teeth of a Mayan girl

Evidence of dental practice was also found in the new world. In the Americas, archeologists uncovered evidence showing that the Mayans used both implants and decorative enhancements to the teeth for the young and old as early as the 9th century BCE.

Sheva Apelbaum False teeth made by the Etruscans
The Etruscans, who predated the Romans, practiced making dentures and implants as early as the 7th century BCE.  They used gold wires, gold strips, and gold rivets in their intricate dentistry.
Sheva Apelbaum Ancient Roman bridges

During the Roman period (5th BCE –4th CE), crowns and bridges were manufactured from gold strips and were attached to existing teeth with great precision.

During the Middle Ages, written records indicate that people used metal brackets on their teeth to straighten them.

Sheva Apelbaum Washington's Teeth

During the 18th century, dentures, implants, and orthodontics of other kinds continued to advance and each became a specialty field.  But clearly, they were still far from the level of sophistication that our modern orthodontics show, as we can surmise from George Washington's correspondence with his dentist John Greenwood:
20 Jan. 1797

Dear Sir
I must again resort to you for assistance.- The teeth herewith enclosed have by degrees worked loose and, at length, two or three of them have given way altogether.  I send them to you to be repaired, if they are susceptible of it; if not, then for the purpose of substituting others. - I would thank you for returning them as soon as possible for although I now make use of another sett, they are both uneasy in my mouth and bulge my lips out in such a manner as to make them appear considerably swelled.

You will perceive at the first view, that one cause of these teeth giving way is for want of a proper socket for the root part to rest in, as were for the purpose of keeping them firm and in place at bottom, as to preserve them against the effect of the saliva which softens the part that formerly was covered by the gums and afforded them nourishment,
Whether this remedy can be applied to the present sett I know not, for nothing must be done to them, which will in the least degree force the lips more than they now do, as it does this too much already; but if both upper and lower teeth were to incline inwards more, it would shew the shape of the mouth better, and not be the worse in any other respect.
Send with the teeth, springs about a foot in length, but not cut; and about double that length of a tough gold wire, of the size you see with the teeth, for fastening the springs.- Accompany the whole with your account, and the amount will be immediately sent by Post in a bank note.
I am Sir
Your very H'ble Servant

George Washington
Sheva Apelbaum George Washington's Signiture
Sheva Apelbaum 19th century dentures

Sophisticated orthodontic practices didn’t begin officially until the late 1800’s.  In 1819, a dentist named Delabarre invented the wire that resembles the one we use today. The wire is the main component used in straightening teeth. It pulls the teeth together and when that happens, the teeth become loosened somewhat from the gums and move into their correct position.
Today, there are different types of braces: traditional metal braces, invisible wire braces, and Invisalign braces. Invisalign is a piece of clear plastic molded to fit your mouth that moves your teeth into their correct place. They are more subtle in appearance and don’t affect a person’s smile quite as much as metal braces.

Many Americans chose to wear braces to straighten their teeth, but this is not a universal practice. Braces have even come to be considered fashionable and now they come in a variety of colors and designs.

I only have half of my braces on so far, but I will be getting braces on the rest of my teeth soon. As strange as it may sound, I’m excited to get them on.
Let the two year countdown begin!


  1. I had braces on for three years, and I never regretted it. A great educational blogspot!

  2. Three years…wow, that’s a long time, but well worth the effort. How common are braces in Germany?

  3. I had my teeth straightened about four years ago - yes, yes, I did!!! Not with braces but with devices made from clear plastic material, they would be changed every month or so. This treatment is called invisalign as you mentioned. It took two years to get it right. But in my age the teeth will jump back, so I am wearing something to prevent this two or three nights a week - yeeeees for the rest of my life! :-)

    Great informative post Sheva!

  4. Wow, that's a long term investment but well worth it. Your teeth are beautiful!

  5. I wished you showed your resource information in your blog. I find this all fascinating, but have not been able to find much on my own to verify authenticity.

  6. very good sheva,jayant from india.very nice collection of history,as an orthoontic postgraduate student i really appreciate your

  7. Hey, Sheva, braces are very common here--it's almost a rite of passage.

  8. Thank you for sharing those info and photos, Sheva. And it seems that the old folks were also into teeth alignment and dentures. But I think their methods were a little extreme. We should be quite thankful today that the procedures and methods to have perfectly aligned teeth are less invasive. Or else, we would still use old methods like drilling holes into the teeth!