The History of Dental Hygiene

A Comprehensive Journey Through the History of Dental Hygiene

Cleaning Your Teeth Isn’t Something Your Dentist Made Up

Do you remember the first time someone told you that you needed to brush and floss your teeth every day? For most of us, that came at an early age, and even though it sounded daunting, your dentist insisted that it’s essential for maintaining a healthy smile.


At the time, you may have thought they were too strict, but in reality, they were merely passing down pertinent information that humans have understood for thousands of years.

What Is Dental Hygiene?

When we reference dental hygiene, we’re alluding to the habits and practices that are crucial for continuing or improving the health of your smile — both your teeth and gums.


Proper oral hygiene helps us avoid common issues such as tooth decay and gum disease, which can lead to more severe health consequences down the road.


Dental hygiene is even acknowledged as one of the ten dental specialties by the ADA (American Dental Association) under the title Dental Public Health. Teaching children how to care for their teeth at a young age allows them to develop good hygiene habits that will set their smiles up for future success.


If you’re looking for a dentist who will teach your family the correct techniques to keep their dental health prosperous, Dr. Stephen Alfano in Newport Beach, CA, is a qualified prosthodontist whose passion is restoring and revitalizing smiles.

The Origin of Dental Hygiene

3000 BCE

The earliest reference to dental health came from an ancient Assyrian medical text believed to date back to 3000 BC. It mentioned procedures that were used to clean teeth and highlighted the importance of a complete smile. For example, a chipped tooth would disqualify you from being in a special, higher class of priests, including diviners and interpreters of omens.


While it’s more than likely that Ancient Assyrians’ didn’t understand the exact nature of tooth decay or gum disease, they still knew that a healthy smile was something worth cherishing.

384 – 322 BCE

Over two thousand years later, forward-thinking actors in Ancient Greece outlined the significance of dental hygiene and began devising techniques to correct dental issues.


The renowned philosopher, Aristotle, wrote about the presence of tooth decay, gum disease, and other problems that he’d observed. He also developed treatment methods, such as using forceps to remove teeth and using wires to keep loose teeth together.


During the same time, Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine,” was the first person to recommend using a special powder to clean your teeth. This powder was made from a combination of materials, such as bones, horns, egg shells, and oyster shells.


Nowadays, a dentist like Dr. Jay Stockdale in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, can prescribe toothpaste and other dental products which match your unique needs and don’t contain bones or shells.

Dental Hygiene in the Middle Ages

936 – 1013 CE

Even though the Middle Ages were riddled with dangers (e.g., plague, famine, difficulty traveling, violence, heresy) there was one thing that propelled dental health, and it came from an Arabian surgeon named Albucasis.


Known as the “Father of Surgery,” Abulcasis wrote a book detailing over 200 surgical tools used for different procedures. The one we’re interested in came in the form of 14 iron scrapers that he utilized to thoroughly clean teeth. He was also the first person to write about the formation of tartar and its effects.

Advances in the 19th Century

1819 – 1845

As western civilizations began to develop, so did our understanding of dentistry and the need for continuous oral care. Prominent American figure Levi Spear Parmly wrote about the significant benefits of cleaning teeth with wax-covered silk, as well as brushing.


It was also right around this time when the American Journal of Dental Science mentioned that people should be flossing with silk two to three times a day. This was the first known mention of preventive dental hygiene in an American Journal.

Managing Dental Health in Modern Times

1900 – Present

Until this point, the dental practitioner was the only one who was allowed to practice, including simple scaling and polishing. However, in 1917, Connecticut became the first state to pass the legislation that allowed people to become dental hygienists. As a result, Irene Newman was the first licensed dental hygienist in the United States.


Currently, dental hygienists are responsible for an array of challenging tasks, all with the intent of meeting the oral health needs of the patient. While specific regulations vary per state, most dental hygienists perform tasks such as:

  • Assessing patients’ oral health condition
  • Developing dental x-rays
  • Removing plaque and calculus from the teeth
  • Applying preventive materials such as sealants or fluoride
  • Teaching patients strong oral hygiene strategies


If you’re looking for friendly, compassionate, and knowledgeable dental hygienists, Dr. Stephen Grussmark in Coral Gables, FL has assembled a team of expertly trained professionals that will make your visit care-free.

Protect Your Smile for Future Success

After thousands of years of trial and error, humans have developed and refined techniques that will allow your smile to remain healthy for a lifetime.


While brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash is an excellent way to care for your smile at home, it’s vital to the success of your smile that you continue to visit your dentist at least twice a year.