Dentistry History: Advancements in Dental Procedures

advancements in dental procedure

We often take for granted the advancements in dental procedures we have in our modern world. In a place like Eugene, you can easily find quality dental professionals such as those at McKim and Platt Dentistry. However, this wasn’t always the case. Dentistry as a practice dates back thousands of years, and the techniques, tools, and procedures weren’t always as scientific and painless as they are today. Here are some of the ways that dentistry has changed over the course of history.


There’s no denying that sometimes dental procedures require pain to be controlled. Dental professionals have used a variety of methods to help control pain throughout time with some being more effective than others. Alcohol is the oldest known sedative and was often used in dental procedures. However, large amounts were needed to put patients into the desired stupor, and it didn’t do much in terms of actually numbing the pain patients felt. Poppy, hemp, henbane, and mandrake concoctions were often used as pain relievers aside from alcohol. In the 1790’s, nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas) began to be used as a pain inhibitor for dental work. Soon after, local anesthetics were developed. Prior to the 1900’s, cocaine was commonly used, but its addictive quality forced chemists to come up with alternative solutions such as Novocain.  

Tooth Extraction

Tooth extractions have been a part of the human condition since we began farming. The carbohydrate and sugar-rich diet humans adopted increased occurrences of tooth decay which often forced people to remove the rotting teeth that were causing them excruciating pain. Early evidence of tooth extractions suggests that a chisel and mallet were used. During the height of the Greek and Roman civilizations, teeth were extracted using ancient forceps (as pictured above) and often with ineffective or no anesthetic at all.

Today, tooth extractions are a fairly simple and painless process. Local anesthetic is administered which leaves the patient with only a sensation of pressure as a dentist loosens teeth using an instrument called an elevator. Once they are loosened, teeth are removed using modern forceps.

Crowns and Bridges   Advancements in Dental Procedures

Dental bridges existed even in ancient times to replace missing teeth. “Donor” teeth from either humans or animals were tied together and then attached to natural teeth using gold or silver wire. Dental crowns were made out of materials such as gold and seashells.

Today, we use a much more effective method of fashioning crowns and bridges. Bridges are now made using a false tooth (or pontic) made from gold, alloys, or porcelain which is anchored to the surrounding natural teeth or dental implants. Dental crowns today are made from ceramic, porcelain, resin, and stainless steel.


The oldest dental fillings ever discovered date back to 7,500 to 9,500 years ago, so it’s safe to say fillings have been around for a long time. Materials such as beeswax, aluminum, cork, or tin were used to fill holes left by tooth decay. It wasn’t until the 19th century that metals such as gold, silver, platinum and lead amalgams were used for fillings.

Today, dentists use an amalgam of liquid mercury, silver, copper, zinc, and other metals or composite resin which is a tooth-colored mixture of plastic and glass. Gold fillings are also still used at patient’s request.


McKim and Platt Dentistry is your trusted local dentist and specializes in preventative and restorative, dentistry, periodontal treatments, dental implants, and more! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.