Written By Ingrid Keizer for Facial Surgery Group, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgeons in Kansas City
Tooth loss can occur due to disease, accident, decay or neglect. A tooth or teeth can even be congenitally missing. The pursuit of the perfect denture, bridge or partial has had a long and arduous journey through thousands of years, continents and procedures.
Fortunately, tooth replacement options have evolved through time. Its path however, tells stories of ingenuity, politics, shame, humor and even some intrigue:
700 BC, Ancient Italy: The Etruscans fashioned dentures from human or animal teeth and gold. Given that the knowledge of oral anatomy and the tools available, the early prosthetic was pretty impressive. However, only the wealthiest Etruscans were privileged enough to afford this luxury. When the Romans overtook the Etruscans in the 5th century, they “borrowed” the Etruscan innovation. It was however, the Etruscans that laid the path for the future of prosthetic dentistry.
16th Century, Japan The Japanese used the Boxwood Shrub, known for its silky, smooth texture, to create a denture that was amazingly well-fitting. Using beeswax to take dental impressions and artisans to carve the “false teeth”, the finished product was in fact, considered some of the best in the world for its time. These wooden dentures were used in Japan until the late 19th century.
17th Century, France – The initial use of porcelain in prosthetics is attributed to French Chemist, Alexis Duchâteau. He himself, a frustrated denture wearer, commissioned an area China Maker to create a better denture. He however, became frustrated with the process and began working with Parisian dentist, Nicholas Dubois de Chémant, who reached a higher success rate.
Alexis Duchâteau filed suit against de Chémant demanding shared credit for the invention. After years of battling for sole recognition, de Chémant won. The porcelain used in the dentures sold by de Chémant was provided by none other than Wedgewood, the acclaimed makers of fine china and luxury accessories.
18th Century, America – George Washington lived with dental discomfort nearly his entire life. Washington’s personal diaries journal his bouts with dental inflammation, pain and numerous extractions. He however, never had wooden teeth in his dentures.
One of Washington’s most notable dentists was Dr. Jean – Pierre Le Mayeur a former dentist to British officers. The British frequently hurled jokes and insults about Washington’s teeth which had become a source of great embarrassment. It is common belief that a letter written by Washington to Dr. Le Mayeur was intercepted by the British. The misleading information in the letter led to the British defeat in Yorktown in 1781. Dr. Le Mayeur became Washington’s close friend and a frequent guest at Mt. Vernon.
By the time Washington became president, he had only one tooth. That tooth was pulled by Dr. John Greenwood, who had it mounted and hung from his pocket watch chain. The common belief that Washington’s teeth were made of wood likely stems from the Port wine staining that made his prosthetic teeth look wooden. Records show that Washington frequently complained that the dentures that were created for him were too bulky, causing his teeth to protrude, thus the rather tight-lipped perception. It is said that the springs used to hold the maxillary and mandibular dentures in place caused significant pain, which exacerbated when he spoke.
Financial ledgers show that human teeth were purchased by Washington to fabricate dentures. Though the ledgers note payment for those human teeth, horrifically, it is also believed that “donor” teeth were taken from Washington’s slaves.
Historians have noted the changes that occurred in Washington’s face as time progressed. Early paintings illustrate a vital, pink faced Washington with a strong jaw. The portraits at the end of Washington’s presidency reveal a much – aged looking Washington. His chin is recessed, his skin gray, cheeks hollow and lips held tight. The latter offer the tell-tale indicators of becoming toothless.
Mid 19th Century, United States – In 1843 Charles Goodyear (Goodyear Tires and Rubber Company) invented Vulcanite, a flexible rubber. Thus, were born new opportunities for denture making. Using teeth crafted from porcelain, dentists began setting the teeth in vulcanite. The practice, though flawed, was the best available during the time. It became widely used in the US and in Europe.
In 1864, Goodyear Dental Vulcanite Company was founded. The Vulcanite Company held the patent for Vulcanite Dentures. Josiah Bacon, the Chief Financial Officer, implemented a substantial licensing fee and traveled the country in search of dentists who were not in compliance. Before the patent expired in 1880, the chief financial officer was murdered in San Francisco by Samuel Chalfant, a St. Louis dentist.
Early on a Sunday morning, Dr. Chalfant went to the San Francisco hotel room at which Bacon was a guest. His intention was to give him “a piece of his mind” and perhaps, to frighten him a bit. Ranting, he waved the loaded weapon at Bacon. Bacon, acclaimed for his aloof disregard and lack of empathy, simply continued to dress himself for church. Dr. Chalfant fired his weapon, accidentally, and watched the bullet enter Bacon’s lower abdomen. Bacon uttered the words, “Don’t do that” and fell to the floor. Dr. Chalfant imagined that the gunfire would alert hotel staff and police would soon burst through the door, except no one came. After attempting to give Bacon medical aid and finding that he had died, Chalfant went to the Police Station and then to City Hall to turn himself in. Both were closed. He finally rented a room, slept for two days, then went to the Central Police Station early on Wednesday morning, where he was treated to a shave and breakfast.
Chalfant was charged with second degree murder and sentenced to 10 years at San Quentin where he became the prison dentist in an office outside prison walls. Many petitioned for his release to no avail. Finally, with some help from a lady friend, Chalfant escaped but was captured shortly after. After serving six years of his sentence, he was pardoned. Soon after, he opened a successful dental practice just a few blocks from where he shot and killed Josiah Bacon. And so the story goes..
Mid 20th Century, United States – Archeological finds indicate an ancient history of attempts at dental implants that date back 6000 year. But, it was Leonard Linkow who pushed to legitimize the procedure into acceptance in the 1950s. He was the first to insert a titanium abutment into a human jaw in 1960. One of Dr. Linkow’s most notable implant patients was Mob Boss John Gotti. Dr. Linkow did not enjoy instant success. He endured over 1.7 million dollars in multiple lawsuits which included accusations of malpractice from Gotti’s legal team.
Later, Swede, Per-Ingvar Brånemark further developed and perfected the process and came to be known as the “father of modern implant surgery”.
Present Day, The Entire World – Today, Dental implants have become the standard of care all over the world. Dental Implants are natural looking, offer the most natural function and could last a lifetime. In addition, dental implants support the retention of natural face shape, protect healthy bone and don’t impede speech.
Dental Implants in Kansas City
Kansas City’s Facial Surgery Group on the Plaza and in the Northland offer the expertise, experience and knowledge to assist you in choosing the alternative for you. Dr. John Tanner and Kasey Call deliver only the highest caliber of gentle care combined with the most well regarded and innovative implant materials.
To learn more about your options for a long-term approach to tooth loss or nonfunctional teeth, call Facial Surgery Group on the Country Club Plaza at 816.561.1115 or our Barry Road location at 816.741.8999.