Dentures, or false teeth, have been around for thousands of years. The earliest type of false teeth found were created by the Etruscans in 700 B.C. They created sets of dentures made from a combination of human and animal teeth. Curiously, the practice never caught on outside of their society, and false teeth disappeared around the same time as the Etruscans did.
It took the popularity of sugar in 18th century Europe to revive the practice, as people were once more suffering from rotting and lost teeth in large numbers. People have tried creating dentures with a wide variety of materials since then, with varying levels of comfort and success.
George Washington’s Teeth
One of the most famous denture-wearers in history is our first president, George Washington. Legend has it that his teeth were made of wood, but in fact, he had some of the highest-quality dentures of the day. Washington’s denture plate was made of hippopotamus ivory and it was fitted with a combination of human, horse and donkey teeth.
One of the most common materials in early dentures is ivory from a variety of sources. It generally came from animals like the hippo, elephant or walrus. Although they worked well when first installed, ivory teeth tended to decay and never really looked natural.
With their increased love of sweets and the resulting increased numbers of tooth extractions, Europeans continued to need more and more supplies of false teeth. The best ones were made from human teeth, with supplies sourced from peasants looking to earn a living, grave robbers and even dentists’ personal collections. These teeth were generally of poor quality and only worn for cosmetic reasons.
As with many things in life, a war changed that situation. About 50,000 young, healthy men died at the battle of Waterloo, giving enterprising dentists an almost endless supply of high-quality teeth to use for dentures. As a result, “Waterloo teeth” became quite the fashion in Great Britain. The practice continued for almost 100 years, with men killed in the American Civil War providing a fresh large supply of Waterloo teeth for growing American demand.
Luckily, the invention of vulcanite, or flexible rubber, took a bite out of the Waterloo teeth market. Apparently, vulcanite makes a much more comfortable base for false teeth, as well as being much less expensive. Beginning in the middle 1850s, vulcanite dentures made false teeth available to the middle class as well as rich or wealthy people.
The French invented porcelain false teeth in the 1750’s. As you would expect, they tended to grate against each other and crack under pressure. Imagine a mouthful of teeth made of your best dinner plates. In the late 1800’s technology improved porcelain, improving both its strength and texture. It then replaced bone, ivory and human teeth, and is often used in dental applications today.
We’ve come a long way from hippo ivory and teeth stolen from dead bodies. The norm today for modern dentures includes acrylic resins and moldable plastics, both for full sets and partial bridges. We’ve also come a long way in dental care since the days of Napoleon or George Washington, so fewer people are suffering from tooth decay and needing false teeth in the first place. When they do, the versions they get are both more comfortable and more affordable than ever before in history.
When it’s time for you to get your own dentures, only the most skilled Houston prosthodontists will do. Maple Leaf Dental can turn back time, replacing your damaged teeth with artificial ones that even your mother won’t notice. Call us at 281-497-5558 or email us to get started. Your smile won’t wait forever!
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