History of Dentistry: Barber Surgeons to Dentists

The profession of dentistry has come a very long way. Early dentists were know as “Barber-Surgeons” — a phrase most people have never heard and most likely have no idea what it means, let alone, what it has to do with the practice of dentistry.

Few people know that barbering (the simple practice of cutting hair on the scalp) and dentistry an old barber chair with leather seats surrounded by wood co-existed for many years. As far back as the Bronze Age (3500 BC) men were having their hair cut and faces shaved. Barbering, the styling of men’s hair was introduced in Rome about 296 BC. Barbers quickly became both popular and prosperous as “barber shops” opened up all over Rome and were the center of daily news and gossip.

Barber surgeons were jacks-of-all-trades and pulled teeth, performed minor surgery, cut hair and applied leeches. The barber dentists usually pulled teeth to treat decay, but they also knew how to fill cavities and created false teeth out of human teeth and cow bone. Poor people often had better teeth than the richer people because poor people poor people often had better teeth than the richer people because poor people would have had very little sugar in their diets.

In 1728 Pierre Fauchard published his master work, “The Surgeon Dentist,” which describes for the first time a vision of dentistry as a modern profession. But it wasn’t until the 1800s when advances in the study of dentistry made it both a respected profession and a professional degree. The founders of modern dentistry are Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris. In 1840 they founded the world’s first dental society, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, which eventually formed into the American Dental Association. In 1840 they also founded the first dental school, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, now called the University of Maryland, School of Dentistry (still located in Baltimore).  Hayden and Harris also invented the modern doctorate of dental surgery (DDS) degree, which is the degree that today’s dentists hold.

Many innovations in science and clinical protocols have made dentistry less painful and an integral part of the medicine. Today there are more people going to dentist for routine preventative care because of advances in fluoride, dental anesthesia (Novocain) the high-speed hand drill and digital radiography. So the profession of dentistry has evolved from “Barbour Surgeons” to Dentists.

Drs. Prestipino and Sfondouris received their doctor of dental surgery degrees from the University of Maryland, School of Dentistry.