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The General Dentist, circa 1885
Until the mid-19th Century, the only dentists with any professional training were physicians who chose dentistry instead of medicine as their vocation. The others were either self-taught or trained through preceptorships by established dentists.
Developing the foundations of professional dentistry rested on three factors: education, organization and publication. From 1839 to 1840, the United States took the lead in advancing these basic principles.
Several dentists contributed to this process, but two names stand above the others: Horace H. Hayden (1769-1844) and his able student, Chaplin A. Harris (1806-1860).
Due to their efforts, the first dental college in the world was chartered in Maryland in 1840, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. The college offered the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery, or the D.D.S.
Hayden and Harris also collaborated to form the first nationwide association of dentists which became, in 1840, the American Society of Dental Surgeons. In 1839, Harris was instrumental in founding the first dental periodical in the world, the American Journal of Dental Science.
The man who truly brought dentistry into the modern world and put it on the scientific foundation it now occupies was Greene Vardiman Black (1836-1915). His inexhaustible penchant for research and his prolific writing habits have endeared him as a "dentist famous to all ages." His books, Dental Anatomy and Operative Dentistry, have stood the test of time.
I have chosen a near-replica of Dr. G.V. Black's office for Anne Crawford in her oil rendering of "The General Dentist, circa 1885", to depict this important time in the evolution of dentistry. She has skillfully reproduced the equipment and articles that were changing the face of the profession.
The Swan Chair (Archer's Number 2) was made by R.W. Archer of Rochester, New York. The foot-treadle drill, patented in 1871 by J.B. Morrison, was later altered by Dr. Black. The first electric drill actually predated the foot-treadle drill but was too cumbersome to be used effectively.
The Whitcomb Fountain Spittoon, introduced by the S.S. White Company in 1867, was the first to feature running water. However most offices, as depicted here, did not have plumbing and dry spittoons were periodically emptied and cleaned.
Manufactured dental cabinets were available, but during this period, most dentists designed and built their own or altered existing furniture as did Dr. Black.
Nitrous oxide was introduced in the mid-19th Century and was often used by many practitioners. The gas was generally prepared by the dentist and stored in elaborately decorated nickel-plated tanks called "gasometers", seen at the far right in this rendering.
Many restorative materials were tried during this period but gold and silver amalgam were consistently demonstrated to be the better choices. It was Dr. Black who eventually hit upon an alloy mixture that has remained essentially unchanged today. Denture bases were made of Vulcanite, a hard and unyielding rubber invented by Nelson Goodyear in 1851. Instruments were either hand-made or machine manufactured and constructed of strong steel.