King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The birth of modern dentistry

Calls for reform

Sir Edwin Saunders (BDA Museum, ref: T134)Sir Edwin Saunders (BDA Museum, ref: T134)By the middle of the 19th century some dentists were becoming dissatisfied with the state of dentistry. There were no legal or professional controls over the practice of dentistry with no way for a patient to tell between a quack and a skilled practitioner.

In 1840 the London Institute for Diseases of the Teeth was founded in Windmill Street, Tottenham Court Road by, among others, William Anthony Harrison and Edwin Saunders (the dentist to Queen Victoria). Its purpose was to provide treatment to the poor and for students to gain some experience under the supervision of experienced practitioners. The Institute was open for two mornings a week but a report published in 1844 suggests that nearly 6000 patients attended there during its first four years. Students were able to observe treatments and could carry them out themselves under supervision. The Institute closed around 1853 for unknown reasons.

The Forceps 1844The Forceps 1844In 1841 George Waite FRCS published a pamphlet entitled ‘An Appeal to Parliament, the Medical Profession and the Public on the Present State of Dental Surgery’. It painted a bleak picture of the dental profession and demanded legislative action. Waite recommended examination by the Royal College of Surgeons. He suggested that the course should last at least 3 years and include instruction on chemistry, anatomy, physiology, surgery and clinical practice at a hospital. Waite’s ideas were largely ignored by many of his colleagues.

In 1843 a dentist named James Robinson established The British Quarterly Journal of Dental Surgery. The aim of the journal was to communicate all the latest information with papers on scientific discoveries and new inventions. Robinson desired to unite all those practising dentistry. He realised the importance of establishing a professional body and instituting examinations if dentistry was to be viewed as a profession. This journal only published two issues but in 1844 Robinson began a new journal The Forceps. This was issued until 1845 when its publication suddenly stopped.

These publications show an increased interest in the development of the profession, although there were still many who were content with the situation as it stood. In 1843 a group of eminent practitioners wrote to the Home Secretary asking for the Medical Reform Bill to be extended to require all those practising dentistry to undertake a course of education and to gain a diploma. This Medical Reform Bill failed to reach the statute book. At the same time the group also approached the Royal College of Surgeons of England asking that dentists be eligible for the Fellowship. They were turned down and for the next decade there is no record of any further actions towards reform.

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