Those who fail to understand the history usually fail to understand the present and fail to plan the future. Professionals who understand the history of their profession tend to appreciate their career and contribute in advancing the wheel of knowledge. Yet, professionals who lack sound understanding of historical timeline of their profession often subjected to criticism and may promote negative impression.  Competing professionals often tend to promote jokes about each other. Only those who lack confidence are easily got offended by the jokes and subconsciously promote a stereotype that does not reflect the reality of the profession. Dentists are often subjected to jokes that dentistry was originally the job of barber and dentists are barbers. Dentists often swallow their disappointment and face such joke with a meaningless smile. Nevertheless, it is rare that dentists defend their profession.


It is important to understand the root of the joke that dentists were barber because it unveils the truth that almost all medical professionals were originally barbers during the medieval era. During the medieval era, barbers were called barber surgeon and they were almost doing everything from simple hair cut to limb amputation. They also created ointments for cosmetic purposes and to resolve skin problems. Barbers also were consulted for ENT- related issues. They drained abscesses, performed minor surgeries, and helped in baby’s delivery. Barbers were called barber surgeons and were allowed to perform various surgical procedures because access to modern doctors was limited to the upper social class. Sanitation at the time was a major issue. Barbers kept relatively good sanitation measures. Religious homes, at the time, recognized modern medical practice as against the God well. Yet, recognized barbers as surgeons. The main motive that led to promote barbers as surgeons/ physicians was poverty. Even during the recent years, barbers performed various surgical procedures including tooth extraction, tonsillectomy, and fracture fixation. Barbers work was not limited to oral cavity. In fact, barbers performed almost the majority of minor surgical operations.


Dentists should not, anymore, swallow their disappointment when people joke about their profession. Dentists should walk with pride that ancient history recognized dentistry as a top ranked profession. Ancient Egyptians documented that tooth-doctors come before the body-doctor because the mouth is the gate to the body. Ancient Persia ranked dentists as number one healthcare workers. As the days passed, medical practitioners took over not because they are superior to dentists but because dentists ignored learning their history and helped promoted the myth that they are not more than barbers who charge people more for something they can get at the barber shop for less. Dentists should be ashamed for introducing their profession with statements like: “it was once the barber job” or “dentistry is a relatively new branch of medicine”. Misleading information that dentists promoted distracted of the revolution in the field of dental research, and led to underestimation of dentistry. The first step to unveil the true face of dentistry is that dentists do their homework by understanding the history of their profession, extract the myths and implant the facts in replacement. Dentists should actively participate in inter- and multi-disciplinary activities to provide a practical example of what dentistry is.


Written by:
Weam Banjar; BDS., MSc. in clinical research
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Mahmoud H. Al-Johani

Author Mahmoud H. Al-Johani

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