When Were Braces Invented? A History of Alignment
Clinical content featured by Byte is reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to help ensure clinical accuracy.
We follow strict sourcing guidelines and each page contains a full list of sources for complete transparency.
Table of Contents
- Early Civilizations
- 19th Century European Dental
- 20th Century Braces
- 21st Century Dental Devices
The history of orthodontic devices, especially braces, goes back thousands of years. Humans have struggled with misaligned bites since early evolution, thanks to adjustments in the size of our heads to accommodate our brains, which led to smaller jaws.
Early medical texts from Ancient Greece note that people with crowded teeth or serious overbites often suffered headaches and ear infections. These are still common, severe problems associated with untreated, extreme malocclusions.
Since the earliest civilizations, humans have treated dental infections and imperfections, with many attempting to adjust tooth alignment as part of this long-term treatment. The idea of braces and similar orthodontic devices is fairly recent but attempts at something like braces go back millennia.
Early Civilizations & Dental Devices
Historians note that some Egyptian mummies have the remnants of what appear to be dental appliances similar to braces. These crude metal bands, often made from gold, were found around some teeth, and they seem to be anchor points for catgut wiring that may have attached to cause dental realignment.
Other burials, including some Egyptian mummies as well as Etruscans and Romans, have gold or other metal wires wrapped through their teeth. However, archaeologists believe this wiring was part of burial practice rather than a device used while the person was alive.
Roman philosopher and medical practitioner, Aulus Cornelius Celsus was reportedly the first in the Western world to write about dental treatment. He recommended that children’s caregivers apply pressure with a finger to the teeth daily, so that dental alignment would be better as the child grew up.
During the medieval period in Europe, little recorded progress was made in any medical science, although dental practice became a field of study at universities by 1580. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, medical students and philosophers studied ailments associated with the mouth and teeth. Still, few approaches to long-term treatment or alignment were considered since the focus was on treating infection and removing teeth.
Dental Practice & Devices in Europe Through the 19th Century
Pierre Fauchard practiced early dentistry in Paris in the 18th century, and his techniques and theories have led him to be called “the father of orthodontia.”
He developed the concept of braces through the bandeau, although it is unlikely he ever created or used one in his practice. The bandeau was a horseshoe-shaped strip of metal, likely gold, that was attached to the teeth to pressure and push them into alignment.
Fauchard was known to use a device called a pelican, a type of forceps, to reposition teeth, which he then ligated together until they healed. This was an early approach to realigning some malocclusions.
Etienne Bourdet, the dentist to the King of France in the 18th century, used Fauchard’s bandeau idea to expand the palate, which allowed for reduced crowding of teeth. Later that century, John Fox, a student of English surgeon and anatomist John Hunter, created theories for braces and arches to expand the jaw and improve tooth alignment, including explicit directions to correct dental alignment problems.
In the early 19th century, Christophe Francois-Delabarre used swelling threads or wood wedges between teeth to adjust crowding.
By the 19th century, J.M. Alexis Schange introduced a modified screw for tightening, the clamp band, and after the rubber vulcanization process was developed, rubber bands to ligate teeth together.
Friedrich Christoph Kneisel, the dentist to Prince Charles of Prussia, and John Tomes used chin straps to adjust jaw problems and removable metal appliances to adjust malocclusions. William and Magill developed the idea of bands on the molars, which became one of the foundations of modern braces.
Finally, John Nutting Farrar, the “father of American orthodontics,” published The Irregularities of the Teeth and Their Correction. This publication advocated specific dental appliances to realign teeth along with specific traction and pressure, and ways to work with the roots to safely move teeth.
True Braces Developed in the 20th Century
In the early 20th century, Edward Hartley Angle founded the first School of Orthodontics in St. Louis. It expanded to New London in Connecticut and then to Pasadena, California.
His malocclusion classification system is still used, and he developed many of the ideas that led to modern braces, including the E-arch and edgewise appliances. He is considered the pioneer of braces, holding 37 patents in his lifetime for several dental tools.
Calvin Case studied several types of prosthetics, including dental prosthetics and orthodontics, but left a professorship to focus on orthodontia. He stressed the importance of root movement, not just tooth movement, and he was the first to use rubber elastics in modern dental treatment. He also used light, small gauge wires for safely shifting teeth.
Braces were still out of reach for anyone who was not wealthy until the 1950s, when stainless steel became the go-to option for brackets, screws, wires, and bands. Before then, the best option had been gold, which was pricey but durable.
Until the 1970s, braces wrapped all the way around the teeth, but brackets changed the appearance and durability of these orthodontic devices. Although metal brackets and wires are called “traditional braces” now, the system has only been around for a few decades.
Dental Devices in the 21st Century & Beyond
Once metal brackets and wires allowed for light, fast, and less painful braces, variations on this system were developed. Plastic and metal retainers were added to treatment plans to keep teeth straighter for longer. These retainers soon became entirely plastic, which led to the development of clear, plastic aligners.
In fact, the clear plastic aligner was only invented as recently as 1997 by Zia Chishti and Kelsey Wirth. The pair of Stanford graduates used computer modelling to take impressions of misaligned teeth, follow their path to better alignment, and design a series of durable plastic dental trays that would mark each step in the realignment process. The company Invisalign came out of this design and began treating their first patients in 2000.
In fact, a revolution in over-the-counter clear aligners, based on the original Invisalign concept, has allowed more adults to take their smiles into their own hands.
It is still important to visit your dentist regularly, and follow any treatment advice or prescriptions they give to manage your oral health. But aligners now offer people the option to get straight teeth at home easily and at a lower cost than ever before.
Orthodontics in Three Millennia. Chapter One: Antiquity to the Mid-19th Century. (February 2005). American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.
History of Braces. Smiles Change Lives. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.
Basavaraj, Subhashchandra Phulari. “History of Orthodontics from Ancient Civilization to Twentieth Century,” “History of Orthodontics in Greece and Rome.” History of Orthodontics. London; Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers, 2013. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.
Braces, Pointless and Essential. (July 2015). The Atlantic. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.
The History of Orthodontics: From Ancient Braces to Invisalign. (February 2021). Orthodontics Australia. Date fetched: April 30, 2021.