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History of the smile

By – Bad Breath Expert
Posted: November 21, 2013, Updated: April 5, 2016
SUMMARY: Take a walk through time to see how smiles - and their cultural significance - have evolved.

history smile

In Frankfurt, Germany, visitors have a chance to walk through a gallery revealing the evolution of dental technologies in a new exhibition called "The Smile History."

The gallery is dedicated to showing a timeline, from 2500 B.C. to today, of how the smile changed throughout various eras and the dental prostheses, highlighting the development of dental technologies, the portrait of smile in art and the first practices of dental technicians. Even if you can't make it across the pond this dental showcase can teach us a lot about our pearly whites.

For instance, did you know that the first great dental technicians were the Etruscans in Italy? Or that portraits showing smiling were rarities because it was considered childish?

Fascinatingly enough, the conference notes that "dentistry is one of the clearest examples of technology serving aesthetics." Our smile has been around for thousands of years, but only recently have we made strides in maintaining a good-looking and healthy grin. The meaning of smiling has evolved drastically since the beginning of the arts, too - from the flat lips on Greek sculptures that reflected wisdom, supreme enlightenment in the holy smile of Buddha, the eternally-debated smile of da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and the stoic portraits of the Victorian era.

Here's a timeline of dentistry:

• In ancient times, tooth loss was very common. Technicians in Italy grew concerned with infections associated with dental decay, gum disease and cavities. Most frequently, dentistry was tied with pain and illness. In spite of this, the first restorations were made by the Etruscans, who, interestingly enough, constructed sculptures of divinities that were smiling, not to be feared.

• The ancient Egyptians, who sometimes hammered seashells into their gums as tooth replacements, made toothpaste of pumice stone and vinegar to scrub stains from their teeth.

• During the Middle Ages, from 476 to 1492, the lack of technology meant no smiling in the arts.

• When the Renaissance peaked in the 1500s, there were few prostheses and little smiling.

• From 1700 to 1800, the Age of Enlightenment saw the advent of the first porcelain dentures. With that came some smiling in the arts.

• In 1938, the toothbrush as we know it was invented, when boar bristles were swapped with nylon bristles.

• Modern times have ushered in computer-aided design and manufacturing, which is a field of dentistry providing tooth restorations that includes crowns, crown lays, bridges, inlays, dental implants and orthodontic appliances - basically, the technology we have today that keeps our mouths healthy. We also started to pay more attention to the oral health of kids, stressing the importance of a healthy mouth in overall health. Plus, in photos, we started smiling.

As far as smiling in the arts, the overarching trend emphasizes that when people have better teeth, they're more likely to smile. Makes sense, doesn't it? So, the cleaner you keep your mouth - meaning less cavities and gingivitis, among other oral health problems - the more likely you are to show off that wide-mouthed grin. 

Today, tooth loss still exists. A handful of seniors have at least one missing tooth. However, the more we stress the importance of the oral health for kids beginning at young age, the brighter our smiles will become.

"The Smile History" exhibit takes place during the Euromold, a world fair for moldmaking and tooling on Dec. 3 through Dec. 6. The Frankfurt exhibit also features the Digital Smile System, a software developed by the European Graduate School for aesthetic previews of virtual smiles. 

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only.  Always consult your health care professional before beginning any new therapy.

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