False teeth, which are known today as “dentures”, are bony plates which are installed into a patient’s mouth by means of adhesion to the fleshy mandibular or maxillary arch. Although these are now relatively inexpensive and their requirement is often taken for granted, they have not always been so easy to come by. A look at the history of false teeth
shows a pain-staking and quirky evolution:
Though it is assumed that primitive versions of false teeth have been around since the 700s B.C., the first concrete
evidence of false teeth emerges from the 15th century
. These were carved of bone or ivory, or they were made from random assortments of teeth that had been dug up from graveyards. However, these had no self-contained method of attachment, but rather were fastened to any remaining teeth by means of metallic or silk thread. This attachment was visible to the observer, resulting in a smile that was not only extremely uncomfortable, but also unattractive. Thus, false teeth were originally intended to serve the sole purpose of aid in eating, not aesthetic purposes.
The biggest shortcoming of these archaic appliances was the fact that they were subject to decay in the wearer’s mouth. Thus, installed false teeth would have to be replaced on a regular basis, resulting in a very costly procedure. However, this problem was rectified in 1774 by Duchateau and Dubois de Chemant with their invention of the first full set of dentures that would not rot. This was due to their porcelain composition – a material that was much more conducive to the everyday wear and tear of one’s teeth. Although an incredible improvement, even the porcelain version had its difficulties. Unable to produce anything less than a full set of teeth (the surrounding porcelain was required to keep each tooth in place), patients who were missing only one or two teeth were out of luck, unless they were willing to have the rest of their teeth removed as well. And yet, in 1808, Giuseppangelo Fonzi developed the first individual appliance – a single porcelain tooth that could be held in place by a pin drilled into the jawbone. Finally, in 1845, Claudius Ash, known as the official “inventor of dentures”, produced the porcelain version that is now used today. His contributions included a suction method of adhesion for a full set of dentures, so that no form of attachment could be seen by an onlooker. Additionally, his invention of “partial dentures”, used to replace one or two teeth, were held in place by a metal clasp – still removable, yet largely invisible to the naked eye.
Because of Claudius Ash and his predecessors of the invention of false teeth, denture-wearers today are afforded a much better quality of life. Today, dentures are used for functional, as well as aesthetic purposes, allowing the wearer greater ease in eating, speaking, and appearing in public. Although a largely unnoticed aspect of society, dentures truly are an invisible genius.