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Techniques & Technologies

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Dentistry

A First World War dentist working at a Casualty Clearing Station near Ypres, Belgium.

A First World War dentist working at a Casualty Clearing Station near Ypres, Belgium.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

Medical practitioners have often looked to other branches of medicine for solutions to problems they might be experiencing. Innovations in dentistry have been influential in other fields of medical practice, particularly orthopaedics.

Plastic has been used for many years in dentistry to make dental prostheses and false teeth, and plastic's utilisation has led to important breakthroughs in other areas of medicine. Shortages of glass led British and Americans to investigare the use of plastics for artifical eyes. In Britain, Royal Navy dental technicians experimented with plastic while in the United States, Fritz W. Jardon, with the American Optical Co and the US Army and Navy Dentist perfected plastic artificial eyes.

Dentistry proved the durability of plastics and made orthopaedic surgeons confident that plastics could be implanted in the body, where they could be trusted not to cause a reaction. In the 1960s the special cement used by dentists was adopted to keep hip replacements in place. A material called hydroxyapatite, which is used in dental implants, has also been used as a coating for internal prostheses. It encourages the natural bone to grow into the metal prosthesis, making it more secure.

Bibliography

C Jones, `Pulling Teeth in Eighteenth Century Paris', Past and Present, 166 (2001), pp 100-45

J Wynbrandt, The Excruciating History of Dentistry: Toothsome Tales & Oral Oddities from Babylon to Braces, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998)

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