Ever since two teeth connected by gold wire were discovered by the Egyptologist Hermann Junker in an Egyptian tomb in 1914, this topic has been debated by both Egyptologists and dentists alike, and even today the literature would seem to indicate that no clear consensus exists.

To consider this question in detail it is probably necessary to examine the available evidence on this subject from resources such as hieroglyphic inscriptions, human remains, various medical papyri, surgical instruments, ancient writings and other miscellaneous source materials.

Hieroglyphic Inscriptions

Translation of hieroglyphic inscriptions found in tombs and monuments throughout Egypt has been able to reveal the occupation of the dead person, which in some cases has pointed to a medical or dental title. Of the approximately 150 persons who are recorded as being medical personnel in ancient Egypt, only nine are recognised as dentists. They appear to have been hierarchically ordered with two basic categories, ‘one who is concerned with teeth’ usually regarded as a dentist, and ‘one who deals with teeth’. It is not certain how these two titles differ, but possibly they reflect differences in duties and status.

In addition there were ‘chief of dentists’ and perhaps the highest dental position was that of ‘chief dentist of the palace’.

Excavations At Saqqara – Quibell (1913)

The earliest recorded dentist not only in Egypt but in the world was Hesyre, who is evidenced from six exquisitely carved wooden panels that were found in his tomb at Saqqara near modern day Cairo, and which are generally considered to be the finest wood artefacts (above image) handed down from antiquity. Hesyre, who lived about 2660 BC, was not only chief of dentists but also chief of physicians as well as holding a number of other religious and secular titles. Other dentists similarly held multiple titles such as Nyanksekhmet who was also a ‘chief of physicians’ and Khuwy who was not only a dentist, but ‘elder of the physicians of the palace’ as well as specialising in gastrointestinal complaints. Whether these multiple titles indicated that the individual was engaged in several specialities or that the titles were perhaps administrative or ceremonial is unclear, but overall they do suggest a need for dental care.

SOURCE: R. J. Forshaw Dr. Roger Forshaw, Bramblewood, Park Gate, Park Road, Guiseley, West Yorks, LS20 8EN

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