This is Steve Ember.
And this is Bob Doughty with Science in the News, a VOA Special
English program about recent developments in science. Today,
we tell about diseases of the teeth and gums, and ways to prevent
and treat them.
People have been troubled by tooth and gum problems for thousands
of years. The earliest record of dental treatment comes from
ancient Egypt. Books say the Egyptians treated gum swelling
by using a substance made of spices and onions. The earliest
known person to treat tooth problems was also from Egypt. He
lived about five-thousand years ago. He was known as a ¡°doctor
of the tooth.¡±
Experts say Chinese people living almost five-thousand years
ago treated tooth pain by acupuncture -- placing small sharp
needles in different parts of the body. About one-thousand-three-hundred
years ago, the Chinese filled holes in the teeth with a mixture
of the metals mercury, silver and tin. That was almost one-thousand
years before a similar substance was first used in western countries.
Some ancient people like the Maya did not treat dental disease.
But they made their teeth pretty by placing pieces of stone
and metal on them.
The ancient Romans were careful about keeping their teeth clean.
More than two-thousand years ago, the Romans treated toothaches,
filled holes in teeth, and made false teeth to replace those
that had been lost.
From the fifth to the fifteenth centuries, Europeans with tooth
problems went to people called barber-surgeons. These people
performed many services, including cutting hair, pulling teeth
and treating medical conditions. Dental treatment improved during
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as doctors increased
their knowledge about teeth.
Modern dentistry began in the seventeen-hundreds in France.
That was when Pierre Fauchard published his book called "The
Surgeon Dentist." It was the first book about dental science.
The book provided information about dental problems for other
dentists to use. And it described ways to keep teeth healthy.
Pierre Fauchard is considered the father of modern dentistry.
His work was important in helping establish dentistry as a separate
Organized dentistry began in eighteen-forty. That is when the
world¡¯s first dental school opened in the American
city of Baltimore, Maryland. Four years later, a dentist first
used drugs to ease the pain during dental work. Two years after
that, another dentist publicly demonstrated the use of the gas,
ether, as a way to reduce pain.
And in eighteen-fifty-eight, another American dentist invented
a dental drill that was powered by stepping on a device. This
machine made it possible for dentists to use both hands when
working in a patient¡¯s mouth.
In eighteen-ninety, an American scientist showed that bacteria
in the mouth act on sugars that remain on the teeth after eating.
This action creates acid that damages the tooth. The damage
appears as a hole in the tooth. It is called a cavity. The part
of the tooth that has been destroyed by the acid is inside the
cavity. It is known as tooth decay.
Tooth decay is common in the United States and around the world.
Dental professionals say the acid remaining in the mouth must
be removed before it destroys the outer covering of the teeth.
Dentists say the best thing people can do for their teeth is
to keep them clean. After eating, people should use a toothbrush
or other device to clean the teeth. Then they should use a thin
string or dental floss to remove particles of food between the
teeth. Visiting a dentist every six months can help keep the
teeth healthy and prevent cavities.
Experts say the greatest improvement in dental health during
the twentieth century began in the United States in the early
Nineteen-Hundreds. Dentists in the small western town of Colorado
Springs, Colorado found that children there had low rates of
tooth decay. They discovered that the town¡¯s water
supply contained fluoride, an element found in rocks and minerals.
Public health researchers thought that adding fluoride to water
in other American cities could reduce the rates of tooth decay.
In Nineteen-Forty-Five, a test program began in the middle
western state of Michigan. Ten years later, results showed a
fifty to seventy percent reduction in cavities in the children
who drank water containing fluoride. Since then, many studies
have confirmed the value of fluoride. Today, most of the American
water supply contains fluoride. And international health organizations,
including the World Health Organization, support water fluoridation
Decay is not the only disease that can cause tooth loss. Another
serious disease affects the gums, the tissue that surrounds
the teeth. It is also caused by bacteria. If the bacteria are
not removed every day, they form a substance that stays on the
teeth. This substance is known as plaque.
At first, the gums appear to be swollen, and may bleed when
the teeth are brushed. This can lead to serious infection of
the tissue around the teeth. The infection may damage the bone
that supports the teeth and cause tooth loss and other health
problems. Studies have found that people with severe gum disease
have an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes
Gum disease can be treated by a special dentist called a periodontist.
Periodontists are trained to repair the gum areas that have
been damaged. This can be painful and costly.
Dental health experts say the best thing to do is to stop gum
disease before it starts. The way to do this is to clean the
teeth every day. People also should use dental floss to remove
plaque from between the teeth. Most experts also agree that
another way to prevent tooth and gum problems is to eat foods
high in calcium and vitamins and low in sugar.
Scientists continue to develop better dental treatments and
equipment. Improved technology may change the way people receive
dental treatment in the future. For example, dentists are now
using laser light to treat diseased gums and teeth. Dentists
use computer technology to help them repair damaged teeth. Researchers
have developed improved methods to repair bone that supports
the teeth. And genetic research is expected to develop tests
that will show the presence of disease-causing bacteria in the
Such increased knowledge about dental diseases and ways to
prevent them has improved the health of many people. Yet problems
remain in some areas. In industrial countries, minorities and
other groups have a high level of untreated dental disease.
In developing countries, many areas do not have even emergency
care services. The World Health Organization says people in
countries in Africa have the most tooth and gum problems.
World Health organization experts say the dental health situation
is different for almost every country in the world. As a result,
it has developed oral health programs separately for each area.
The W-H-O oral health program is mainly for people living in
poor areas. It provides them with information about mouth diseases
and health care. It also studies preventive programs using fluoride
in water, salt, milk and toothpaste. And it explores ways to
include dental health in national health care systems.
Many governments and other organizations provide help so people
can get needed dental health services. But dental health professionals
say people should take good care of their teeth and gums.
They say people should keep their teeth as clean as possible.
They should eat foods high in calcium and fiber. These include
milk products, whole grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits,
beans and nuts. Recent studies have shown that eating nuts can
help slow the production of plaque on the teeth.
Experts say these activities will help everyone improve their
dental health throughout their lives.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Nancy Steinbach.
It was produced by George Grow. This is Bob Doughty.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for more news
about science in Special English on the Voice of America.
This Science Report is published courtesy