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False Teeth

Updated on February 5, 2012

Also called dentures, false teeth have been used by humans for thousands of years. Today, the branch of dentistry that deals with providing substitute teeth is called prosthodontics. This includes the replacement of single or several teeth, usually by the use of a bridge affixing them to the neighboring teeth; a crown may also be used to serve the same purpose. A fixed bridge may be made of gold covered with porcelain or acrylic resin. If a complete row of teeth must be replaced or if there are insufficient adjacent teeth to support a bridge a removable denture is made, usually of acrylic resin, and it retains its position by the suction action of saliva and firm underlying tissues.

The reasons for the use of such dentures are several: to enable proper chewing and hence prevent stress on the remaining natural teeth; as an aid to proper speech because missing teeth, particularly the front ones, create speech difficulties; and as a cosmetic measure.


The best dentists known to us from the ancient world are the Etruscans who as early as 700 BC were making bridges of gold with teeth from other humans or fashioned from bone or ivory. However, from this time little advance was made until the end of the seventeenth century when full sets of lower teeth came to be used, kept in place with silk thread. Great difficulty was experienced in keeping upper dentures in position until the Parisian dentist, Fauchard, devised a method of fastening the upper and lower sets together with steel springs.

But this had a great disadvantage in that constant pressure was necessary to keep the mouth shut! The teeth used at this period were usually taken from the poor for a fee (and there was no such thing as anesthetic at the time) or else hand carved from bone or ivory, and often set in ivory gums. In the latter half of the eighteenth century another French dentist invented porcelain teeth, a considerable advance on the bone and ivory ones as these began to smell, decay and taste unpleasant after a time.

In 1845, Claudius Ash, an American, considerably improved the porcelain tooth and the invention of vulcanite (a type of processed rubber) by Charles Goodyear enabled these porcelain teeth to be simply built into a model or mould of the gum.

Soon, as fitting methods were improved, top teeth were able to stay up by themselves, rendering the use of old fashioned devices such as steel springs and suction pads obsolete.

The history of false teeth is a rather gruesome tale: stories of fashionable ladies having their gums pierced with hooks to keep their dentures in place; a fashionable London gentleman with celluloid dentures which caught fire whilst he was smoking; and teeth ornamented with precious stones and metals. Even today one can see in various parts of the world people sporting fine complete sets of gold teeth with a smile that radiates a wealth of warmth.


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