Evolution of Braces
Orthodontic treatment today takes advantage of cutting-edge dental technologies but the evolution of braces to straighten teeth and improve bite function is rooted in attempts by early civilizations to rectify crooked teeth.
These first, rudimentary versions of dental braces – made from metal or animal cord and skin – were crude by today’s standards but demonstrate there’s nothing new about the desire to achieve a winning smile.
Braces, as we know them nowadays, made their debut in the 1970s, and since then have undergone amazing transformations to make them more comfortable and effective. In 2000, clear plastic aligners became available as an alternative to traditional braces, and have since revolutionized the world of orthodontics.
But let’s go back to the start to see how modern orthodontics owes a debt to the inventiveness of teeth-straightening pioneers of ancient times.
Braces in Ancient Times
According to many historians, dental braces date back to ancient Egypt. They also believe that around the same era in classical Greece – 300-400 BCE – the “Father of Medicine”, Hippocrates, and the great philosopher and scientist Aristotle set out to solve a fundamental problem among their contemporaries – misshapen, unsightly teeth.
Archaeologists have discovered numerous mummified remains of individuals from that era with what seem to be metal bands wrapped around their teeth. It’s thought that catgut (cord made from animal intestines) may have been tied to these bands to exert pressure to move teeth – one of the first dental ligatures.
The Etruscans buried their dead with dental appliances to preserve their facial appearance in the afterlife, and there’s evidence that the Romans bound teeth with gold wire as a ligature.
Braces in the 18th and 19th Centuries
Fast-forward to the 18th Century, and we get the start of the real evolution of braces.
The early 1700s sees the rise to fame of French dentist Pierre Fauchard – often credited with inventing modern orthodontics – with the publication of his book The Surgeon Dentist, which looked at ways to straighten teeth. Fauchard himself used a horseshoe-shaped piece of iron to help expand the roof of the mouth.
In 1754, Louis Bourdet, dentist to the King of France, published The Dentist's Art, which included a chapter on tooth alignment.
Orthodontics was established as a medical science in the 1800s, with the concept of gentle pressure at timed intervals to move teeth and the improvement of braces with the help of special tools and instruments
Braces in the 20th Century
The early 20th Century sees American dentist Edward Angle step onto the orthodontic stage. While Hippocrates is feted as the “Father of Medicine”, Angle is widely regarded as the “Father of American Orthodontics", making huge contributions toward improving and simplifying the design of braces and other dental appliances.
Angle set up the first school and college of orthodontics. His American Society of Orthodontia became the American Association of Orthodontists1 (AAO) in the early 1900s. The AAO remains the world’s biggest and oldest dental specialty organization.
The evolution of braces continued through two world wars and into the digital era, with several breakthroughs including advances in stainless steel and the introduction of dental adhesives.
Other techniques made braces more discreet and comfortable but the idea of braces that were practically invisible remained out of reach until the late 1990s.
Braces in the 21st Century
The state-of-the-art Invisalign system of clear plastic aligners to straighten teeth began life in 1997 and was developed and perfected over three years, making its debut in 2000 and fast becoming the orthodontic treatment of choice for many people.
Invisalign has many advantages over the wires and brackets of conventional braces. Invisalign aligners are practically unnoticeable and, being removable, make it much easier to keep your teeth clean.
Invisalign uses advanced technology to address problems such as crooked, gapped or crowded teeth, and malocclusion, when the bite function does not work properly.
Series of aligners are worn during the treatment, with only a few teeth being repositioned during each stage. Each set of aligners is designed to be worn 22 hours a day for one to two weeks.
The Invisalign system uses 3D computer imaging, a non-invasive process compared with traditional impressions.
Meanwhile, there have been major advances in traditional braces, with more options than ever before. Standard metal and ceramic braces are now far less conspicuous and offer a greater degree of comfort.
Recent Innovations in the Evolution of Braces
The technology behind modern orthodontics is vastly different from that of just a couple of decades ago, enabling orthodontists to offer advanced treatment techniques and better patient experience.
Cutting-edge developments in dental technology have resulted in orthodontic innovations such as:
- 3D imaging with cone beam CT scanners, for clear and detailed images that can be viewed from any angle.
- Customized smile design, using 3-D planning software.
- Temporary anchorage devices (TADs) to control movement of teeth.
- Clear ceramic braces and plastic aligners2 that are hardly noticeable.
- Accelerated orthodontics to speed up the entire teeth-straightening process.
The Human Touch is Still Important
From animal entrails to advanced regular braces and hi-tech plastic aligners, the evolution of braces has seen many innovations over thousands of years.
Braces may have changed dramatically down the centuries but we share a common orthodontic goal with our forebears of olden times – the desire for straight, healthy teeth alongside the quest for the perfect smile.
Braces technology continues to progress at an incredible pace, and it’s likely that braces will further evolve to bring even more benefits to orthodontic patients, including affordability of treatment. Historically, many developments in the evolution of braces have gone hand in hand with lower costs to the patient.
Astute orthodontists keep up to speed with latest developments while keeping one eye on what the future holds. However, the best orthodontic practices never lose sight of the importance of the human touch that puts patients at ease and makes them feel welcome.