According to scholars and historians, braces date back to ancient times. Around 400-300 BC, Hippocrates and Aristotle contemplated ways to straighten teeth and fix various dental conditions. Archaeologists have discovered numerous mummified ancient individuals with what appear to be metal bands wrapped around their teeth. Catgut, a type of cord made from the natural fibers of an animal’s intestines, performed a similar role to today’s orthodontic wire in closing gaps in the teeth and mouth.
The Etruscans buried their dead with dental appliances in place to maintain space and prevent collapse of the teeth during the afterlife. A Roman tomb was found with a number of teeth bound with gold wire documented as a ligature wire, a small elastic wire that is used to affix the arch wire to the bracket. Even Cleopatra wore a pair. Roman philosopher and physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus first recorded the treatment of teeth by finger pressure. Unfortunately, due to lack of evidence, poor preservation of bodies, and primitive technology, little research was carried out on dental braces until around the 17th century, although dentistry was making great advancements as a profession by then.
Orthodontics truly began developing in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1728, French dentist Pierre Fauchard, who is often credited with inventing modern orthodontics, published a book entitled “The Surgeon Dentist” on methods of straightening teeth. Fauchard, in his practice, used a device called a “Bandeau”, a horseshoe-shaped piece of iron that helped expand the palate. In 1754, another French dentist, Louis Bourdet, dentist to the King of France, followed Fauchard’s book with The Dentist’s Art, which also dedicated a chapter to tooth alignment and application. He perfected the “Bandeau” and was the first dentist on record to recommend extraction of the premolar teeth to alleviate crowding and to improve jaw growth.
Although teeth and palate straightening and/or pulling was used to improve alignment of remaining teeth and had been practiced since early times, orthodontics, as a science of its own, did not really exist until the mid-19th century. Several important dentists helped to advance dental braces with specific instruments and tools that allowed braces to be improved.
In 1819, Delabarre introduced the wire crib, which marked the birth of contemporary orthodontics, and gum elastics were first employed by Maynard in 1843. Tucker was the first to cut rubber bands from rubber tubing in 1850. Dentist, writer, artist, and sculptor Norman William Kingsley in 1858 wrote the first article on orthodontics and in 1880, his book, Treatise on Oral Deformities, was published. A dentist named John Nutting Farrar is credited for writing two volumes entitled, A Treatise on the Irregularities of the Teeth and Their Corrections and was the first to suggest the use of mild force at timed intervals to move teeth.
In the early 20th century, Edward Angle devised the first simple classification system for malocclusions, such as Class I, Class II, and so on. His classification system is still used today as a way for dentists to describe how crooked teeth are, what way teeth are pointing, and how teeth fit together. Angle contributed greatly to the design of orthodontic and dental appliances, making many simplifications. He founded the first school and college of orthodontics, organized the American Society of Orthodontia in 1901 which became the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) in the 1930s, and founded the first orthodontic journal in 1907. Other innovations in orthodontics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries included the first textbook on orthodontics for children, published by J.J. Guilford in 1889, and the use of rubber elastics, pioneered by Calvin S. Case, along with Henry Albert Baker.