History of Dental Caries and Cariology
, tooth decay or a cavity, is an infection caused by bacteria which ferments food debris and produces acid which, in
turn, causes demineralization and destruction of the hard tissues of the teeth (enamel, dentin and cementum). It is one of the most common diseases
throughout the world and history. Study of dental caries is called cariology.
Human race lives with caries for millions of years now. Australopithecus suffered from cavities. Skulls that were found and that date form the Paleolithic
and Mesolithic ages d show signs of caries. Earliest increase in caries is attributed to dietary changes, increased consumption of plant foods containing
carbohydrates and beginning of rice cultivation. A Sumerian from 5000 BC blamed a "tooth worm" for caries. Same belief, at the same time, shared peoples of
India, Egypt, Japan, and China. They tried to treat caries with dental drills. Teeth dating from around 5500 BC to 7000 BC found in Pakistan have in them
almost perfect holes made with primitive dental drills. Egyptian text from 1550 BC, called Ebers Papyrus, mentions some diseases of teeth. King's
physician, during Sargonid dynasty of Assyria (668 to 626 BC), writes about the case where a spreading inflammation was stopped by extracting the tooth.
Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians have treatments for pain caused by caries.
Bronze Age and Iron Age had a pretty low caries but with appearance of sugar cane in the Western world in 11th century, caries rises again. It was treated
with herbal remedies, charms and bloodletting. Stronger cases were treated by tooth extractions which were done by barbers which were very successful in
these treatments and probably prevented spread of infections in many cases. Dentistry even had its patroness Saint Apollonia and prayers to her were meant
to heal pain caused from tooth infection. North American Indians also suffered of increase caries cases after contact with colonizing Europeans because
they switched from hunter-gatherer diets to maize based.
With Age of Enlightenment, medical community of Europe stops believing that “tooth worm” causes the caries and blames sugar which was not far from the
truth. Pierre Fauchard, known as the father of modern dentistry, was one of the first to proclaim this idea. W.D. Miller found in the 1890s that acid
producing bacteria inhabits the mouth and that dissolved tooth structures. He and G.V. Black and J.L. Williams, who researched plaque, made basis for
explanation of the etiology of caries. Fernando E. Rodriguez Vargas found also several of the strains of lactobacilli in 1921. A spherical bacterium in
chains (Streptococcus mutans) were found by Killian Clarke in 1924 in London for which he believed that they were the cause of caries but experiments were
not proved later. They were accepted as a cause of caries only in late 1960s after the experiments on hamsters of Keyes and Fitzgerald in 1950s. So, for
one to have dental caries one must have bacteria, material on which those bacteria will feed and, of course, teeth which lead to characterization of tooth
decay as a multifactorial disease.