Are you or your child anxious about seeing the dentist? We now offer Sleep Dentistry! Learn more

Are you or your child anxious about seeing the dentist? We now offer Sleep Dentistry! Learn more

The evolution of dentistry

Article written by: Dr Mitchell Innes

As generations progress, our fear and avoidance of the dentist chair is being replaced by a yearning for healthy and attractive teeth for life.

I look forward to coming to work each morning as I have a unique job where I meet people of all ages and backgrounds. An interesting part of my day is hearing about my patients’ past experiences at the dentist, their attitudes towards dentistry and where they prioritise their teeth in their life. What is apparent is that dentistry, including the way it’s practised by dentists and people’s attitudes and dental desires, is much different in recent generations.

Patients from the so-called Silent Generation from 1925-1942 lived through dramatically different times including the Great Depression and World War II where money was quite scarce and nutrition was poor. They had access to limited dentistry such as extractions and, if lucky, amalgam fillings and dentures. Dentistry in this period was very reactive (the tooth has a hole or hurts so pull it out) and proactive in the way teeth were completely removed and dentures given to young adults/adolescents, especially women prior to marriage. Military personnel were also mostly treated with extractions during the WWII era. Dentally this period is referred to as the “blood and vulcanite” era. Procedures were often done without anaesthetic, which made dentistry very painful and meant that the dentist was avoided until extraction was the only choice. The foot-pedal-powered drill was also feared. These attitudes were then passed onto the following generations. Dentistry as a profession progressed significantly through the Baby Boomer generation of 1943-1960. This period welcomed the electric high-speed drill, effective local anaesthetic, antibiotics and exclusive registration following extensive training for dentists. This era is known as the “drill and fill” era and was accompanied by an improved feeling by patients towards a dental visit. It saw treatment swing toward filling teeth to keep them, as opposed to extracting them. The next generation, known as Generation X of 1961-1981, inherited a better feeling about the dentist and teeth than their previous counterparts.

There was a preventative approach to dental disease by dentists with fissure seals and increased public fluoride exposure through toothpaste and drinking water (fluoride was introduced in drinking water in 1953). Water fluoridation greatly reduced the incidence of tooth decay among children. For example, here in Townsville the decay rate among children was 45 per cent lower than in Brisbane in 1996.

The latest patient, Generation Y, has accompanied the “golden age” of dentistry and prosperity in the economy. The advances in dental technology, skill and people’s attitude towards their teeth have progressed significantly. People of Gen Y rarely fear the dental visit and have a strong desire to have healthy teeth for life. The focus of dentistry is now on disease prevention, interception and stabilisation and the cost of procedures is the main reason people avoid the dentist these days. This paradigm shift in dentistry over the past 100 years has made it even more important for me as a dentist to communicate effectively with my patients about exactly what he or she desires to fulfil them, while
providing ongoing education.

At Casey Dentists we have the ability to provide patients of all generations with many treatment modalities so they can achieve their own dental goals.