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With the current state of modern medicine that is available today, it’s troubling to even think about the medical treatment that was given back in the 1700’s. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way from the proverbial “just rub some dirt on it.”

Most medical facilities today oversee strict sanitary guidelines and safety procedures to ensure the patient is comfortable and given the best treatment possible during their emergency. Countless lives have been saved, and the average lifespan extended significantly for both people and animals, thanks to these evolutions in tech and medicine. Here are the major medical advancements that have redefined medicine and health since the 1700s.

Sanitation and Disease

The reevaluation of regular sanitation guidelines alone has been enough to extend lifespan and prevent many diseases that were prevalent in the 1700s. Disease is caused by pathogens, which were discovered in the nineteenth century. This discovery aided the advancement of health and medicine. This new knowledge of how diseases spread drove engineers to develop sanitary sewage systems to prevent Cholera and other water-borne diseases. The squalid living conditions in the 1700s created an era dominated by “filth diseases,” which included the bubonic plague, and subsequent “Black Death.”


Mahatma Gandhi once said back in 1923, “sanitation is more important than independence.” According to the Public Library of Science, especially in developing countries, “the components of good health can substantially reduce the rates of morbidity and the severity of various diseases.” With good health and sanitation, the quality of life of people, particularly children, will improve significantly.


In the 1700s, a simple illness like the common cold could very easily kill someone. When smallpox ran rampant through England, Edward Jenner, a doctor, scientist, and pioneer in vaccinations, created the first successful smallpox vaccine in 1796. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the last case of documented smallpox was found in 1977, but was quickly quarantined and eradicated.  


Children between the ages of 3 and 6 are most prone to dangerous viral infections, like croup, and modern parents are very much encouraged by health and medical professionals to have their kids immediately vaccinated.


Technology today helps scientists predict the evolution of a virus and the casualties it may cause. Since the inception of regular vaccines in children the mortality rate has greatly decreased. Scientist and doctors can then collaborate to brew up a vaccination to keep the virus endangered and too weak to cause a full-blown epidemic.

Licensing and Certification

Nurses that practiced independently were very common back in the 1700s. Midwifery, for example, wasn’t even a practice one could get certified in. Mostly, it was read about or simply taught by someone else who had been through the process a few times. Because of this, the vocation was rife with improperly trained midwives.


For example, according to the Daily Mail, “Forceps were unheard of at the time and instead a crotchet - a hooked stick - was used to help bring out the babies, sometimes before the mother was even in labour.” Using untrained and inexperienced midwives to deliver babies brought many complications with the birth, and both the mother and the child potentially emerged with serious injuries — sometimes never making it out at all.


Mothers of the 21st century can now choose between having births in a hospital under intensive, watchful care, or at home with certified practitioners. Women had little voice over their birthing situation 300 years ago — with the shortage of doctors in the 21st century, however, there are some states who have given complete autonomy to nurse practitioners, who can perform the duties of a midwife during a birth.


The first toothbrush was not patented until 1857, however, 18th century oral hygiene consisted of the same practice with a toothbrush, and the bristles were commonly made from boar hair — except barbers were the unofficial dentists at the time. In addition to haircutting, hairdressing, and shaving, barbers performed surgery, bloodletting and leeching, fire cupping, enemas, and the extraction of teeth; earning them the name "barber surgeons". Even before the first toothbrush, items like the first dentures, gold crowns, and porcelain teeth were invented in the 1700s. When removing cavities, the dental foot engine was used — similar to the foot pedal of a spinning wheel, it rotated a drill for cleaning out cavities.


Today, dentistry has unfolded into a top dollar industry that connects oral health to overall health and well-being. Both kids and adults are encouraged to have semi-annual visits for a deep cleaning, and a checkup for any developing cavities. Oral health has evolved tremendously, especially when looking at this 2018 Oral Health Checklist that goes into depth as to how much maintenance is recommended on modern teeth and the preventative care that dentists recommend.


These health advancements throughout history have dramatically increased the average lifespan of humans. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, “For most of human history, life expectancy has been short - perhaps 25 years for our hunter-gatherer ancestors and only 37 years for residents of England in 1700. Dramatic changes began in the 18th century, with life expectancy in England rising to 41 years by 1820, 50 years by the early 20th century, and 77 years today.”


Children over four years old were fortunate to even survive during the 1700s, let alone making it to their mid-thirties. Nowadays, life expectancy has practically tripled compared to 300 years ago.

About The Author

Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any questions or suggestions.