Looking Back at the History of Dental Hygienists

Looking Back at the History of Dental Hygienists

As your Gatewood dentist in Oklahoma City, our team at 23rd Street Dental specializes in providing patients with the quality dental care they need to look and feel their best. We couldn’t provide our patients with the type of outstanding care they receive without the assistance of our incredible staff of dental hygienists.

Dentistry has come a long way since the days when barbers also doubled as their town’s dentists. Perhaps no position in dentistry has evolved more than the dental hygienist’s role. While history records the presence of the first “dental nurses” back in the 1880s, the position didn’t take the shape we know today until the early 20th century.

In honor of the great dental hygienists who work alongside our Gatewood dentist in Oklahoma City, let’s look at how the position evolved over the years.

The Dental Hygiene Concept

Before the dental hygienist’s role could evolve, the concept of dental hygiene needed to be created. Before the 20th century, the practice of dental care meant visiting the local barber to have a painful tooth pulled. Scientists didn’t discover the oral bacteria that contribute to the development of tooth decay and gum disease until the late 1800s. Unfortunately, it took almost 20 years for dental hygiene to catch on, and even longer before preventative dental care evolved into the practice it is today.

The First Dental Hygienist

In the early 1900s, a dentist named Alfred Fones decided to teach his cousin, Irene Newman, how to clean teeth clinically. While not as advanced as the tools and techniques used today, the duties Irene Newman performed as a dental hygienist in her town had a major impact.

A few years after perfecting the role of dental hygienist, Newman and Fones opened a school dedicated to teaching others how to clean teeth correctly. The state of Connecticut recognized Newman’s efforts by giving her the very first license in the U.S. to practice dental hygiene. Ms. Newman was so successful at keeping the mouths of her town healthy (which helps to promote a robust immune system) that Bridgeport had the nation’s lowest death total of any major city during the influenza outbreak of 1918.

The Impact of World War II

Preventative dental care (brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and scheduling regular visits to see a Gatewood dentist in Oklahoma City) that you practice today was still uncommon until the 1950s and 60s.

During WWII, a massive number of Americans underwent physicals before joining the war effort and after being discharged. This provided government agencies with a huge amount of information regarding GI health. One area of health that researchers noticed was in dire need of improvement was the nation’s teeth. This led to a wave of studies on the causes of tooth decay and how best to prevent enamel erosion.

Many of the principles of modern dental preventative dental care, such as the need to brush, floss, and use fluoride, were born out of the health information collected on soldiers returning from the war.

Modern Dental Care

With the advent of preventative dental care came the role of the modern dental hygienist. Once plaque’s role in tooth decay was better understood, it became clear that removing plaque and tartar buildup was key to improving a patient’s oral health.

Of course, dental hygienists do more than just clean a patient’s teeth. They play an invaluable role in the office helping our dentists provide the caring, compassionate support our patients deserve. So, the next time visiting your Gatewood dentist in Oklahoma City, make to take time to appreciate all that our hygienists do to help protect the health of your smile.


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