Endodontic treatment, which is the official term for root canal treatment, arose back in the 17th century. Charles Allen put endodontics on the map in 1687 when he wrote the very first book devoted strictly to the field of dentistry. Rudimentary endodontic explorations had begun to relieve tooth pain and preserve teeth as best as possible. Since then dentistry and the field of endodontics in particular has surged forward.
Individual advancements throughout the 18th and 19th centuries helped to make root canals more efficient. For example, clove oil was utilized for its sedative properties during treatment, and the man considered to be the founder of modern dentistry described pulp tissue and its removal process in 1746.
The first official root canal tool wasn’t developed until 1838, when Edwin Maynard of Washington D.C filed down a watch spring to be used during root canal treatments! A few years later the substance called gutta-percha, which fills the tooth’s canal after infection is cleared, was developed by Edwin Truman.
Despite these developments, many methods were still utilized that we know today were very dangerous. For example, in 1820 one dentist protected exposed pulp with lead foil, and in 1885 another dentist began using arsenic to dry the pulp stumps left in the tooth’s canal after treatment.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that endodontics and dentistry started to more closely resemble the industry we know today. The invention of anesthesia and X-rays made a huge difference, and dentists could finally use radiography to identify pulp-less teeth.
It took until nearly 1960 for dental manufacturers to join forces and produce instruments that were standardized for acceptable root canal treatments. Advancements like sonic and ultrasonic energy instruments were utilized, as well as nickel titanium.
Today, all of this progress has resulted in root canal procedures that are bearable, effective, and very safe. We should all appreciate the hundreds of years of effort it took to get to this point.