The craniofacial complex encapsulates the brain and contains the organs for key functions of the body, including sight, hearing and balance, smell, taste, respiration and mastication. All these systems are intimately integrated within the head. The combination of these diverse systems into a new field was dictated by the dental profession's desire for a research branch of basic science devoted and attuned to its specific needs. The traditional subjects of genetics, embryology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, dental materials, odontology, molecular biology and palaeoanthropology pertaining to dentistry have been drawn together by many newly emerging technologies. These new technologies include gene sequencing, CAT scanning, MRI imaging, laser scanning, image analysis, ultrasonography, spectroscopy and visualosonics. A vibrant unitary discipline of investigation, craniofacial biology, has emerged that builds on the original concept of ‘oral biology’ that began in the 1960s. This paper reviews some of the developments that have led to the genesis of craniofacial biology as a fully-fledged health science discipline of significance in the advancement of clinical dental practice. Some of the key figures and milestones in craniofacial biology are identified.