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Denture Material Developments

Porcelain Teeth

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Early specimens of mineral teeth

The 19th century brought significant developments for dental prosthesis related to denture materials in the United States of America. Though porcelain teeth were invented in France, it was American manufacturers that initiated mass production for the dental industry and thereby made porcelain teeth accessible to the public. (1) Moreover, even though porcelain teeth were introduced nearly a century earlier, dentists were unable to perfect them in form and color. As ivory dentures were known to deteriorate, there was a desire to make porcelain teeth the new standard for artificial teeth material because of their resistance to decay and odor in ideal circumstances. (1)

Antoine Plantou introduced porcelain teeth to the United States in 1817 when he arrived in Philadelphia from Paris, though these porcelain teeth were in a rudimentary state. Nonetheless, American dentists recognized the potential of porcelain teeth and began to conduct experiments to improve them. The dentist Samuel Stockton was one of the first to succeed in these experiments and he began a tooth manufacturing business in 1825. His nephew, Samuel Stockton White, learned the craft of dental prosthesis from his uncle and brought even further improvements to manufactured porcelain teeth. Samuel Stockton White soon started his own tooth manufacturing business, which became the largest of its kind at the time. At this point, the American dental companies were producing nearly 100,000 false teeth a month. (5)

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Denture with vulcanite base

The Vulcanite Base

In the 1840s, Charles Goodyear disovered rubber, a combination of caoutchouc
and sulphur. In 1851, Charles' brother, Nelson Goodyear, invented a hard-rubber solution termed “vulcanite”. And then in 1855, Charles discovered and patended a procedure for making dental plates out of vulcanite. (5) Vulcanite was a revolution in dental prosthesis because the material was easy to work with in creating dental prosthesis, and allowed dentures to be created for patients who previously proved incompatible with dental prosthesis technology. Importantly, vulcanite was an economical material to acquire, thereby allowing less fortunate individuals to procure dentures as well. (1)

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Upper denture with celluloid base

The Celluloid Base

Another economically efficient base for dentures called celluloid emerged in 1869. At this time, one needed to obtain a patent from the Goodyear Rubber Company to create vulcanite-based dentures, so celluloid became an alternative for those who did not wish to obtain a license. (1) Celluloid was claimed to be advantageous in being highly malleable, adaptable for both partial and full dentures, and for its color resembling natural mouth tissues. (10)

The Metal Base

Though vulcanite and celluloid were immensely successful, over time there was a gradual move towards metal-based dental plates. Vulcanite work, despite its relatively efficient make, was also characterized by discomfort, a sulphuric odor, and clumsiness. Moreover, due to the ease in their construction, vulcanite-based dentures became the mark of undereducated dental enthusiasts who lacked the proper training to carry out dental procedures. This resulted in subpar dentures that were discomforting and even injurious to users. (1)

Thus, the demand for dentures on metal bases such as gold increased the overall standard of qualification for dentistry due to the superior technical skill required in constructing them. Of course, this was most often a feature of the high-end dental clinics and were available only to those individuals with the money to purchase them. Members of the working class relied on vulcanite and celluloid-based dentures. (1)