In years past, replacing missing teeth wasn’t easy. It also wasn’t particularly effective. People with missing teeth resorted to extreme measures, using a variety of natural materials to makeshift something resembling a normal, functioning smile.
The first false teeth were reportedly constructed by ancient Egyptians. They repurposed human teeth and used gold wire to fill in the gaps. There’s also evidence that ancient Mexican tribes used animal teeth — usually from wolves! — as replacement teeth.
But it was the Japanese who created the oldest known pair of complete dentures in the 16th century. Research tells us that these replacement teeth were crafted from the wood of Japanese Box trees. In fact, wood was a primary tooth replacement material until the 1800s.
During this time, people were also experimenting with creating full sets of replacement teeth from hippo, walrus, and elephant ivory. But these ivory teeth stained easily, smelled bad, and were very uncomfortable to wear.
It wasn’t until 1770 that a man named Nicolas Dubois De Chemant made the first porcelain dentures. Starting in 1850 and through the 1930s, dentists experimented with dentures made from materials like hardened rubber, celluloid, and bakelite until finally landing on acrylic resin.
Acrylic resin was hard, translucent, and had no unpleasant odor or toxicity. Plus, it could be easily repaired and was relatively inexpensive overall. This made it the perfect candidate for dentures.