What do the pyramids and dentists have in common? Both were once found only in ancient Egypt.
Ancient Egypt is world renown for its pyramids (circa 3000 BC) and its Sphinx (circa 2500 BC). And while those were monumental accomplishments that are still standing, another monumental accomplishment that it is completely unknown for was the creation of dentistry. At the same time – 3000 to 2500 BC!
The world’s first recognized dentist was an Egyptian physician named Hesy-Ra (also spelled Hesy-Re) whose title was the “Chief of Dentists and Physicians.” Although he was royal physician to the Pharaoh Djoser and his close buds, he also tended to the dental health of the slaves, scratch that, people working on the pyramids. Obviously a painful toothache could slow down the work. His job was to keep workers on the job. And apparently he was quite good, as the pyramids are still standing today.
The dentistry he practiced wasn’t what you would call “pain-free.” In fact, if you can imagine a dull drill drilling into the center of your teeth, that will give you an idea of the pain. Only it’s worse because of course there were no electric drills.
Dentistry at that time scary by today’s standards; Hesy-Ra often drilled holes in teeth to help drain the infection using a bow drill. Google it and be grateful dentistry has moved on. The drilling, however, paved the way for advanced dental techniques such as root canal therapy, in which the dentist has to drill all the way through the teeth to treat the abscess at the bottom. If you’ve ever seen the movie Marathon Man where Dustin Hoffman is having his teeth drilled by a crazed Nazi dentist, no doubt that’s how much screaming Hesy-Re generated with his then modern dentistry.
Unfortunately for the ancient Egyptians, opium, known to other cultures was unknown to them, so it’s likely Hesy-Ra resorted to using the mandrake plant and magic. And if the mandrake plant actually worked, we can attribute it to magic.
Hesy-Ra went on to become one of ancient Egypt’s most respected physicians and was famous during his lifetime for his contributions. His knowledge was passed on to future doctors, as dentistry developed into a separate profession.
As a side note, cosmetic dentistry was practiced at least 4000 years earlier than Hesy- Ray! The Indus Valley Civilization has yielded evidence for the earliest form of dentistry, which dates back to 7000 BC. Teeth dating back to that time have been found with jewels embedded in them or wrapped with gold wire. Today that would a grill worthy of a top selling rapper.