THE EARLIEST EVIDENCE of an attempt at root canal treatment goes all the way back to the second or third century B.C. A skull was found in Israel with bronze wire inside a tooth, indicating an ancient technique to treat infected root canals without extracting the tooth. It’s been a long road from bronze wire to the root canal therapy performed by modern endodontists!
A Brief Endodontics Timeline
- Mid-1700s: Pierre Fauchard, the founder of modern dentistry, described dental pulp removal and dispelled the legend of the “tooth worm,” which had long been considered the cause of caries and toothaches. (Turns out it was sugar all along.)
- 1820: Leonard Koecker cauterized exposed dental pulp with a heated instrument and protected it with lead foil.
- 1838: Edwin Maynard in Washington, D.C. introduced the first root canal instrument, created by filing a watch spring.
- 1847: Edwin Truman introduced gutta-percha as a filling material. We still use gutta-percha today!
- 1864: S.C. Barnum of New York prepared a thin rubber leaf to keep the infected tooth isolated during treatment. Several years later, he and G.A. Bowman introduced the rubber dam clamp forceps. These are all important tools for root canal therapy to this day.
- 1895: Konrad Wilhelm von Roentgen accidentally discovered X-rays. German Dentist Otto Walkhoff took the first dental radiograph just a few weeks later.
A Setback: The (False) Theory of Focal Infections
In 1909, the growing field of endodontics suffered a major setback. E.C. Rosenow developed a theory that endodontic treatment caused “focal infections,” meaning that a treated tooth became an avenue for chronic diseases affecting other parts of the body. In fact, the opposite is true: removing diseased dental pulp keeps infection from spreading beyond the tooth, and it allows patients to keep their natural teeth!
The idea of focal infections took over dentistry for decades, and it wasn’t until the late ‘40s or early ‘50s that laboratory research and clinical evidence finally proved it false. In the meantime, countless teeth that could have been saved through endodontic treatment were instead extracted in the hopes of curing various chronic diseases. Today, endodontic treatment enjoys one of the highest success rates in medicine, and we have those researchers to thank for restoring its good name!
Anesthesiology and Endodontics
We could make another timeline entirely based around developments in anesthesiology throughout history, because no matter how far endodontic procedures have advanced in other ways, our ability to ensure patient comfort during our procedures is largely possible thanks to all the advancements in the science of pain relief.
Enjoy the Comforts of Modern Endodontic Treatment
As modern endodontists, we truly stand on the shoulders of giants. We have so many great historical minds to thank for what we are able to offer our patients today. If you have a tooth you’re worried about, schedule an appointment so that we can determine if endodontic treatment is the right solution.