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Who Is The Father of Modern Dentistry?

Sink Your Teeth into this Amazing Story

You’re probably very familiar with the old refrain from the dentist, “make sure to floss your teeth every day.” Unfortunately, research suggests that fewer than half of Americans do so daily. But flossing does have significant benefits and should be an important part of nearly everyone’s dental care routine. Not only is it simple and only takes a couple of minutes per day, but the long-term benefits include potentially preventing tooth decay and gum disease and keeping more of your natural teeth as you age.

For something that is such an essential part of dental care, you might think flossing has been around far longer than it has been. But it was only in 1819 that the person who is considered The Father of Modern Dentistry first wrote about the importance and benefits of flossing.

A Revolution in Modern Dentistry

Levi Spear Parmly was born in 1790 in Vermont, the son of a farmer and would be the oldest of nine children. At 22, Parmly moved to Boston and studied dentistry as an apprentice to a couple different dentists. Eventually, Levi set up shop in Montreal, and went on to practice in Quebec, the western United States, and in Europe, where he became the first American dentist to practice, with distinction, in England.  Parmly eventually returned to the United States and settled down in New Orleans.

Parmly pioneered modern dentistry by writing many highly regarded books. His main focus was on preventing disease, something which resonates strongly with today’s dental philosophy. At the time, Parmly’s theories on gum disease and decade were revolutionary and not widely accepted. They are now cornerstones of dentistry. For example, in his first book he wrote:

“The first and most important object from childhood is the cleanliness of the teeth. Though we should be careful to clean the teeth after every meal, it is more particularly necessary before retiring to rest; the foulness which has been all day accumulating, is thus prevented from committing its ravages during the night.”

With the first publication about microorganisms in the mouth coming in 1878 – nearly 20 years after Parmly’s death – Parmly was at least 50 years ahead of his time. Although Parmly lacked the technology to identify bacterial infection as the source of dental problems, he successfully identified external sources as the cause of dental problems. In 1819, in order to remove this unknown decay-causing entity, Parmly taught his patients to run a silk thread between their teeth, effectively making Parmly the first modern dentist to advocate flossing.

Popularizing Flossing

Floss was not commercially available until 1882. In 1898, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation the first patent for dental floss made from the same silk material used by doctors for silk stitches. But flossing only became widespread in the early 1940s when nylon floss was developed. Nylon floss was found to be better than silk thanks to its greater abrasion resistance and ability to be produced in great lengths and at various sizes.

As for Parmly, in later life he pursued philanthropy. His favorite charities were schools and orphanages, where he fixed children’s teeth and educated them on how to maintain healthier teeth to avoid problems. 

While flossing and daily oral care are important, make sure your dental routine also includes regular checkups. ASBA has a Dental Plan that’s just right for you. Get coverage for everything from routine checkups to fillings, procedures, and more. You can see any dentist you choose with even bigger savings with an In-Network provider.

Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/sj.bdj.2014.3