The History Of Dentistry
Why the AAHD Should Matter to Dentists
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, as of April 2016, there were 210,030 dentists in the United States.1 Probably a little less than 150,000 of those dentists are in practice. Others are retired, teaching, in research, or industry. If 1% of those 210,000 dentists had enough interest in the history of dentistry, and knew about the The American Academy of the History of Dentistry (AAHD), the Academy would have over 2,000 members. Today, there are less than 160 members of this extraordinary and worthy group. Furthermore, our esteemed colleague, James Gutmann, DDS, president of the AAHD, and renowned endodontics educator, responded to me as follows when I wrote to him about history of dentistry courses in today’s schools of dentistry and the small membership of the Academy:
“Hi Ted, Yes, sadly that is the case for our membership. Almost all North American Dental Schools do not teach history any longer as a formal course (99%) and my attempts to find out who does met with deaf ears and no data surfaced from both the ADA and the American Dental Educators Association. Faculty members have little or no interest...and students are not being imbued in the lessons of history. For that matter, in both predoctoral and postdoctoral programs, I believe that the concept of history for these students was left on the doorstep of high school and possibly college, or even thrown away in the trash as the history text books of all types were abandoned. We are losing our people (AAHD members) through normal attrition...interest is decreasing and the whole world of dentistry has gone techno-happy...technopoly at its finest. Sadly, they do not realize the richness that is present in our history waiting to be explored, investigated, rethought, reanalyzed, and applied to present day situations. I could go on and on about this issue...but we are a dying breed. I could write an editorial on this one…”
The AAHD was founded in October 1951 by 21 dentistry history enthusiasts in Washington, DC and became an official organization the following year in St. Louis. Their goals were to “increase interest among dentists in the history of their profession; encourage dental schools to develop historical collections and offer adequate instruction in dental history; interest the leaders of the profession in dental history so that they might tackle problems in education and practice with the advantage of hindsight; and create an authoritative body to which important questions relating to dental history could be referred for factual verification.”1 The Bulletin of The History of Dentistry became the recorded publication of the group in 1953 and eventually became the Journal of The History of Dentistry.
Currently, the Journal of The History of Dentistry has three issues a year. The articles and other offerings (antique dentistry post cards, Victorian Era advertising trade cards, literary dentistry briefs, etc.) make for terrific leisurely reading and offer the reader astonishing stories of dentistry’s past. The following sixteen titles chosen and listed randomly from the last few decades typify what the Journal of The History of Dentistry has to offer:
• Daws S. Baltimore and the Beginnings of the Fluoride Controversy.
• Perciaccante A, Coralli A. Dental Items of Interest: The Case of Delphic Sibyl by Michelangelo.
• Eramo S. Classical Music and the Teeth.
• Gutmann JL. Is an Apicoectomy Ever Successful? If So, Under What Conditions? A Historical Assessment with Contemporary Overtones.
• Dokou P, Tsami A, Vrotsos JA. Historical Insights in the Progression and Development of Gingivectomy.
• Donaldson JA. The Use of Gold in Dentistry: A Historical Overview.
• Parwani S, Parwani RN. History of Techniques of Increasing the Zone of Attached Gingiva and Deepening the Vestibular Depth.
• Caglar E, Gorgulu M, Kuscu OO. Prevalence of Dental Caries and Tooth Wear in a Byzantine Pediatric Population.
• Shklar G. John Hunter as an Oral Pathologist.
• Christen AG, Christen JA. “When a Wife Worries:” A 1916 Silent-Era Comic Movie Parody About Teething.
• Gallucci JM. Who Deserves the Credit for Discovering Ether’s Use as a Surgical Anesthetic?
• Hyson JM. The Dental Key: A Dangerous and Barbarous Instrument.
• Christen AG, Christen JA. A Historical Glimpse of Toothpick Use: Etiquette, Oral and Medical Conditions.
• Ring ME. Oddments in Dental History: Cupid’s Admonitions-A Century and a Half Ago- Taken From Those Popular “Advice” Books.
• Hyson JM. History of the Toothpick.
• Gelbier S. The Lady at the Chairside: Dental Surgery Assistants in the United Kingdom.
Fellowship in the American Academy of the History of Dentistry costs $95.00 a year, including a year subscription to the Journal of The History of Dentistry. That’s about the cost of one dental examination plus a dental prophylaxis. Become a Fellow of the AAHD and surprise your favorite colleague with the same honor. After perusing each issue of the journal, that issue along with future issues, can occupy a place of interest in your reception room reading material. Furthermore, your colleague will appreciate your thoughtfulness and both of you will enjoy fellowship in one of dentistry’s most scholarly and intellectually stimulating groups.
1. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Professionally Active Dentists. 2016. http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/total-dentists. Accessed July 18, 2016.
2. Ring ME. History. The Twentieth Century. In: Dentistry: An Illustrated History. New York, New York: Harry N. Abrams; St. Louis, Missouri: C.V. Mosby Company. 1985:304.
About the Author
Theodore P. Croll, DDS, is in private practice in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.