Endodontic treatment is the official term for the dreaded root canal procedure, in which an endodontist (or root canal treatment specialist) removes damaged tissue from the root canals inside of teeth. The word comes from the Greek endo, meaning inside, and odons, meaning tooth. When tooth pulp, which contains sensitive nerves, arterioles, venules, lymphatic tissue, and fibrous tissue, becomes damaged, an endodontic specialist steps in to rescue the tooth.


While this treatment now entails advanced technology, the procedure was practiced long before, not only dental insurance and electric flossing, but the entire invention of electricity. So let’s take a look at how endodontic treatment has evolved over the years.


The roots of root canals


Endodontic treatment dates all the way back to the second or third century B.C. In 1985, archeologists discovered evidence of early root canal surgery in Israel’s Negev Desert. After examining the jaw of a 2000 year deceased Nabataen soldier, Joseph Zias, of Israel’s national Department of Antiquities and Museums, unearthed a one-tenth of an inch bronze wire, which had been embedded in the nerve cavity of one of the skull’s teeth.  The location of the wire was in the exact spot of infection, where modern root canal treatment would be targeted. Apparently, the wire was used to reduce infected tooth pulp, as the soldier suffered from three abscesses and a cyst.


Dental Anthropologist David Gantt of Emory University expressed astonishment at the early method of treatment.  “The root canal is a type of treatment that indicates high technology and a high understanding of dental disease.”


As Ancient Jews show no records of having practiced dentistry, archeologists believe the treatment must have been practiced by a Roman doctor. Romans are cited for the invention of dental crowns and dentures, probably inherited from the Etruscans’ work with ivory false teeth and gold band wirings for loose teeth.


Dentistry picks up speed


Evidence from the first century A.D. until the 1600’s reveals endodontic treatment, which entailed draining pulp chambers for relief and covering them with protective coatings made of gold foil or asbestos.


The Twentieth Century


With the rise of the twentieth century came the institution of x-rays and anesthetics – what some might call dentistry miracles. Endodontic treatment became much more safe, practical and most importantly, comfortable with the new technology. Tooth extractions were no longer the only options for infected pulp, and millions of patients underwent endodontic treatment.

A Specialty is Born


As the evolving practice was honed to an exact science, dentists, practitioners, and educators were inspired to form the American Association of Endodontists (AEE) in February 1943. The association was held at the Palmer House in Chicago and invited dental enthusiasts from across the country to share their endodontic knowledge and experiences in one place. By 1963, endodontics was recognized as the eighth dental specialty by the American Dental Association.
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