The History of Orthodontics - Part V

Congratulations, fellow traveler. We’ve arrived safely in the 20th Century. That's no small feat, considering that so far the treatment options for tooth problems have been either: 1) death, or 2) ripped out with pliers at the barber shop. We now have proper dentists, and a good number of them specialize in orthodontics.

So why, you’re surely wondering, do so many people still have crooked teeth in the early 1900s? We’ve been building braces piece by piece over the last 150 years, from Fauchard’s Bandeua to the Baker Anchorage. These people can finally get braces, so why won’t they find the local orthodontist and invest in the perfect, healthy smiles that await them?

The answer: There probably isn’t a local orthodontist to find. They might be able to find a local dentist who has taken classes or attended lectures on orthodontics, but at the turn of the century, there’s no such thing as an “orthodontist.” That’s all about to change, due to the indefatigable determination of one man.

It’s 1900, and Edward H. Angle, 45, is about to quit his job. He’s already the nation’s expert on all things orthodontia. He coined the term “malocclusion” (the improper alignment of teeth) and created a classification system for malocclusions that is used around the country. He’s been professor of orthodontics at several schools. (Unfortunately for Columbus, The Ohio State University, my beloved alma mater, won’t open its College of Dentistry for another fourteen years).

Angle has been teaching orthodontics to dentists who want to specialize in it. But he knows that orthodontics has the potential to change millions of lives if his students could focus their entire profession on practicing it. This year, he will open the Angle School of Orthodontia and formally establish orthodontics as a specialty. Also, just for good measure, he’ll found the American Society of Orthodontics. It will become the American Association of Orthodontics, the world’s largest dental specialty organization.

Flash forward to the Roaring Twenties. A dapper chap can pick up his honey pie in his automobile and take her to the picture show, where the electric lights dim before they watch “The Jazz Singer.” America is flying forward faster than one of the Wright brothers’ planes. So too is Angle’s vision of orthodontics. Over the years, Angle has opened more schools, written more books and invented more appliances. As he enjoys retirement in California, orthodontists all over the country are practicing what has become its own, distinct specialty.

Now flash forward to 2014, Columbus, OH. Orthodontist Cheryl Golden, a member of the American Association of Orthodontics, is giving a free consultation to a child who needs braces. She is using the most advanced technology, but at a fundamental level, her work is based on ideas first taught at the Angle School of Orthodontia. She loves her profession and is mighty glad Edward Angle had the vision and tenacity to establish it.

Next time, we’ll find out how braces developed from a clunky mouth of metal to the sleek and easy treatment of today.