Considering the enormous role teeth play in humanity's ability to eat, speak, and smile freely, the impact of the dental profession on civilization becomes very clear. Human history has seen some enormous breakthroughs in dental techniques and procedures. Hare are five major dental innovations that have changed countless people's lives for the better -- including yours, most likely!

1. Tooth Drilling

The earliest treatment for a bad tooth was undoubtedly extraction, but evidence exists that teeth were being saved through recognizable dental procedures as early as Stone Age times. Prehistoric drills made from stone indicate that the ancestors of modern dentists were drilling teeth to relieve infections as early as 8,000 years ago. While no one knows whether any form of anesthetic herbs might have eased the process, the drilling was probably extremely painful. But in the long run, that moment of pain may have prevented even greater long-term suffering -- the exact same reason you might have a tooth drilled today.

2. Fillings

The use of metals to fill in the holes made from tooth drilling seems to have origins extending many centuries into antiquity. The ancient Chinese made early references to using silver amalgam paste for medical purposes -- a substance that would later become a popular dental filling material. The earliest reference to gold fillings appears in a 1530 book known as the Artzney Buchlein. This book, produced as a reference guide for the barbers who generally performed dental procedures in that era, also discusses drilling and oral hygiene techniques, setting the stage for a more scientific and uniform approach toward dentistry.

3. Crowns

The ability to cement a realistic-looking artificial tooth cap over a shaved-down natural tooth seems like quite a modern innovation, but in fact it was first performed by the ancient Etruscans as long ago as the First Century. Of course, these early crowns weren't made or ceramic or porcelain, so they wouldn't be undetectable as many modern crowns are today. Even so, these metal crowns would not have looked all that unusual to us.

Then as now, gold was a popular choice for crowns. Unfortunately, so was lead, at least in the days before anyone understood the health hazards posed by this particular material. If you had been alive in that era, you might also have seen (or owned) tungsten, iron or tin crowns as well. In 1746 Claude Mouton advocated the use of enamel, introducing the age of more natural-looking crowns.

4. False Teeth

Replacing one or more missing teeth is an ancient dental art. This breakthrough made a major difference in helping people chew and speak more normally. The earliest denture users on record were the ancient Egyptians, who simply anchored rows of extracted human teeth with gold thread. Many ancient civilizations seem to hit on the idea independently, using human teeth, animals teeth, carved wooden teeth, or even rocks and seashells. In the 1700s, ivory and porcelain became widely-used materials for false teeth.

As useful as these early dentures may have been to their wearers, you probably wouldn't put up with them today. They were heavy, prone to staining, and all too vulnerable to chips and other breakage. Dentures needed another leap forward, and they got it in the 1800s with the introduction of plates made from gold and vulcanized rubber. The use of lightweight acrylics in the 20th Century made dentures lighter and more form-fitting than ever before.

5. Implants

Implants, in which titanium posts are surgically fused with the jawbone as the "roots" for permanent crowns, are an astounding leap forward in tooth replacement compared to dentures. But just how "modern" are they? Believe it or not, the ancient Mayans actually experimented with implants made of shells, stones, and similar materials -- and some cases, they actually managed successful implantations! 

Nevertheless, dental implant surgery as we know it wasn't developed until 1952, when a doctor discovered that bone could fuse with a titanium rod to create a strong bond. Over the past few decades the procedure has become common, providing yet another amazing breakthrough in dental history. What will future of dental science hold? Ask your dentist -- he may have some amazing new technique to share with you!