History of Dentistry

Egyptian Tomb for Royal Dentists ~ 2,300 BC

National Geographic reported that a 4,200 year old Egyptian Tomb was unveiled in 2006. It was the tomb for three dentists who had served the pharaoh: Iy Mry (chief dentist), Kem Msw and Sekhem Ka. One of the recurring hieroglyphs in the tomb was an eye over an elephant’s tusk. This is the hieroglyph for dentistry.

The article and photograph of the tomb can be found at National Geographic.

George Washington 1732-1799

George Washington did not, I repeat did NOT have wooden dentures. He had several dentures made and none of them look nice or comfortable. You can see the ones that are on display at his home at Mount Vernon.

They were made of lead, animal teeth and human teeth. Worse, they stayed in by springs that constantly pushed open against his mouth. He had to fight against those dentures just to keep his mouth closed.

He had another, fancier set that was made of gold. Part of these were stolen from the Smithsonian Institute when they were on loan there. They still don't know who did it and still have not found them.

Paul Revere 1734-1818

The portrait of Paul Revere was painted by John Singleton Copley and is part of the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Paul Revere was a silversmith, goldsmith, spy, spymaster, dentist and forensic dentist. He worked as a dentist from 1768-1775, even placing two advertisements in the Boston Gazette. During this time, he wired in a false tooth for his friend, physician Joseph Warren. Dr. Joseph Warren was the man who sent Paul Revere on his famous ride. Warren would have become famous after the Revolutionary War, as he did so much for its cause, but he was killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Months after the battle, Warren's body was found and Paul Revere identified him by the artificial tooth he had placed and by the wire he had used to fasten it in. This was the first recorded dental identification done by a dentist in North America.

Learn more about Paul Revere. For more information on Paul Revere as a forensic dentist: Manual of Forensic Odontology, Fifth Edition.

Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch 1825-1903

Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch was a dentist, abolitionist and prohibitionist. As a dentist, he started in his profession in 1856. As an abolitionist, he participated in the Underground Railroad. As a prohibitionist, he solved the problem of people "needing" wine to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

In 1869 he was the first to successfully pasteurize grape juice to make what he called “unfermented sacramental wine,” which he shared with his Methodist church members. Learn more history on Dr. Welch. Scroll back to 1869 and 1893.

Dr. Welch started a business to produce the pasteurized grape juice. His son, Dr. Charles Welch was also a dentist. Charles bought the business from his father in 1873. He continued to improve the process of pasteurization until he felt it was ready to market at the World’s Columbian Exposition here in Chicago in 1893. It did so well he gave up dentistry and worked full time for the company. Learn more about about both Dr. Welchs and their company.

John "Doc" Holliday 1851-1887

John Henry Holliday graduated from Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1872. His graduation photograph is on the right. After he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, he moved to the Southwest in the hopes that the climate would help him live longer. There, in addition to dentistry, he used gambling to make a living. As his cough got worse, he practiced dentistry less, and gambling more. He was also known for being an excellent gunfighter. He was friends with Wyatt Earp and his brothers, and they all became part of history for their part in the "Gunfight at the OK Corral." Learn more history on Doc Holliday.

Zane Grey 1872-1939

Pearl Zane Gray changed his name to Zane Grey. He received his dental degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896. He married Lina "Dolly" Roth in 1905 and she encouraged him in his desire to be an author. After years of writing, his first western, Heritage of the Desert, became a best seller in 1910. His best known book, Riders of the Purple Sage was published in 1912. Learn more about Zane Grey.

American Gothic 1930

This famous painting resides at the Art Institute of Chicago. Photography is allowed in some areas of the Art Institute, if you do not use flash or a tripod. I took this photograph under those requirements and that is why it is not as clear as I would have liked.

Grant Wood created this painting using his sister Nan Wood as the model for the woman, and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, as the model for the man.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special 1964

Hermey the Elf did not want to make toys, he wanted to be a dentist. This made him a misfit, so he and Rudolph ran away together. It was Hermey who saved the day by making pig noises to lure the Bumble out of the cave, preventing him from eating an unconscious Rudolph. He then made the Bumble humble, by extracting his teeth and rendering him harmless. Learn more about Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

The Dentist Skit on the Carol Burnett Show 1967-1978

In this clip, Tim Conway performs as the hapless dentist and Harvey Korman as the patient, trying in vain not to laugh.

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