When looking for material to use in dentures during modern dentistry’s first flourishing, the eighteenth century, people looked to natural materials. They tried using many options, including wood, bone, and ivory from many sources, including hippos, elephants, and walruses. These decayed too quickly, and the best replacements were made from actual teeth: human teeth. Although these replacements looked great, they were often in short supply, and could serve to spread disease. Some dentists felt a new solution had to be found.

Why Not Porcelain?

The first experiments with porcelain teeth were made by French chemist Alexis Duchâteau. he was not a dentist, he was a denture patient, and he did not like his dentures. He thought he might be able to make better ones using porcelain. He had a set made for him at a local china factory, but they did not fit, so he began experimenting with them to try to make them work. The problem was the same that would affect people trying to make all-porcelain crowns centuries later: shrinkage upon firing made it impossible to get the fit right.

So he approached a dentist working in Paris, Nicholas Dubois de Chémant, and the two men worked to try to get a properly fitting denture for Duchâteau, which they did after numerous tries. Although the new dentures won an accolade from the Royal Academy of Surgeons, they did not sell, and Duchâteau gave up on them.

A Finer Art

Working on his own, de Chémant made several refinements to the porcelain denture. This included a gold spring system to improve the fit and function of the dentures. He published a book on his dentures and was granted an exclusive patent by King Louis XVI. Fame and fortune followed, as de Chémant’s dentures were praised for “[uniting] the qualities of beauty, solidity, and comfort to the exigencies of hygiene.”

In response to de Chémant’s success, Duchâteau decided he needed some credit for the invention, and filed a lawsuit against de Chémant. After several years of court battles, de Chémant won the right to be considered the sole inventor of his porcelain teeth.

Making Teeth in Exile

However, de Chémant fled the country when it exploded with the French Revolution. Upon moving to London, de Chémant was again given an exclusive patent on his mineral teeth, and the right to make them without any competition for 14 years. His dentures became so popular in England that he was regularly featured in caricatures and articles in the daily papers. By 1804 he claimed to have made 12,000 dentures.

However, de Chémant’s fame was ended by many factors. First, once imitators were able to produce similar teeth, they did such a bad job of it that they gave porcelain dentures a bad name. And at the same time a new influx of cheap replacement teeth came from across the Channel, featuring a patriotic name: Waterloo teeth, commemorating the victory of the Duke of Wellington over Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

Today, if you are looking for the most recent innovations in dental history, you’ve come to the right place. Our Columbia denture dentists are skilled in making dentures to the latest standards of fit, function, and longevity. Please contact Smile Columbia Dentistry today to learn more.