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

King's College Hospital

Photograph of Dr William J Penny staging a demonstration of a tooth extraction, [1888]. (Ref: KH/PH3/1)Photograph of Dr William J Penny staging a demonstration of a tooth extraction, [1888]. (Ref: KH/PH3/1)King’s College Hospital was founded in 1829 to provide clinical experience to students in the medical faculty of Kings College London. When it was first established it had 4 main departments; medicine, surgery, diseases of women and children and dental surgery.

This small but extremely busy dental department was run by one part time dental surgeon with the occasional assistance of a part time clinical assistant. In 1919 C.E. Wallis, who had taken over control of the department in 1911, complained of over work in the department. To solve this problem an assistant dental surgeon and two clinical assistants were appointed in 1920. The charge for dental treatment increased to 5s from 2s 6d although free treatment was still available for the poor.

Photograph of a dental ward (Ref: KH/PH1/4/9)Photograph of a dental ward (Ref: KH/PH1/4/9)There is very little information regarding the formation of the dental school at King’s. At a meeting of the Hospital Management Committee on 12th April 1923 the chairman, Viscount Hambleton, proposed that a course of dental teaching should be started at King’s and that King’s College should undertake all the teaching for it. This proposal was accepted and the school was officially opened on 12th November 1923 in buildings belonging to King’s College Hospital in Denmark Hill, London.

The motivation behind the formation of the dental school is likely to have been the Dentists Act 1921. This Act limited the practice of dentistry to qualified and registered practitioners. To prevent a shortage of dentists more would have to be trained and there would be an increased demand for dental courses.

The building housed a conservation room with 30 dental chairs and engines all supplied by the Dental Board of Great Britain. There were teaching rooms, staff rooms, a prosthetics laboratory and a phantom head room with 10 heads.

There was a x-ray machine and a separate outpatient department with three rooms; one for extractions under general anaesthesia, one for extractions under local anaesthesia and a joint recovery room for both. At the entrance to the building sat the Lady Almoner who received payment from the patients.

The charges were:

  • Scaling and dressing : 6d
  • Fillings : 1s
  • Extractions : 1s for one to four teeth, 2s for five teeth or more
  • Full upper and lower denture : £4
  • Orthodontic appliances : £5 per plate

Many patients had some sort of insurance but free treatment was available to those who were unable to afford it.

Five students were enrolled to start on the dental course when the school opened while several more transferred from other dental schools. H.N. Squire was the first student to qualify but he had transferred from another school, the first entirely King’s trained student was R. V. Shepperd. The first female student was Betty Coutts who joined in 1924 with Mary MacWilliam joining the year after. After that there was an interval of 12 years before the next female student joined. Indeed for the first 15 years of the school the number of students enrolling each year did not increase by many, staying in single figures.

The staff of the dental school included lecturers in orthodontics, preventive dentistry and dental surgery, a prosthetist, a dental registrar and the director. The first indication of medical and surgical teaching for King’s students came in 1923 when medical and surgical tutors were appointed to the staff.

Plan of the Dental Department opened in 1923 (Ref: KH/PLAN2/38)Plan of the Dental Department opened in 1923 (Ref: KH/PLAN2/38)In 1935 a new building funded by the Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society was completed at the Medical School. The ground floor was given to the dental school to convert into a conservation department with 35 dental chairs and units, a separate children’s conservation room, laboratories, phantom head room and teaching rooms. The work was completed in 1939.

During the Second World War King’s College was evacuated to Glasgow. The dental students who remained were taught at King’s Hospital and at the remaining dental schools and hospitals in London and the surrounding area. There were several meetings about what to do if London was bombed. It was decided that the students should use their discretion if and when the bombings occurred as to whether to carry on. The conservation room did suffer from a bomb landing nearby which blew out of the glass windows in the room. Indirectly the hospital suffered again when its consignment of dental chairs from S.S. White in America was sunk in the Atlantic.

One of the outcomes of the War was an increased interest in research. On 1st June 1946 a research unit into caries and periodontal disease was founded to house the work of J.D. King, a former King’s student with a Beit Memorial Fellowship. Dental students began to receive wider medical education in 1947 when a course of 30 general surgical lectures began.

The 1948 National Health Act bought many changes. The Medical and Dental School split from King’s College and became an independent school of the University. The introduction of the National Health Service led to an increased demand for treatment. The Teviot Committee, which had been set up to investigate the future need for dental treatment, warned that the number of dental students would have to increase from 500 to 900 a year to cope with this increase.

The number of students at the Dental School had varied somewhat over the years. For the first fifteen years of its existence the number of students enrolling each year hadn’t reached double figures. Between 1920 and 1943 the average student intake per year had been 9.5. The amount obviously dropped in the Second World War but in 1947 and 1948, as an experiment, 20 students a year were taken on. This amount of students overstretched each department but the intake continued. The average student intake between the years 1946 – 1956 was 23 with the number reaching as high as 27 in several years. There was a small increase in staff and space in the 1950s but bigger steps were required. In 1956 the Dental School decided a completely new school with facilities for an intake of 40 students a year was required. The University Grants Committee visited the school and asked them to submit plans. Many years of planning and building followed and eventually a completely new building was constructed and the new Dental School opened in May 1966.

Other decisions affecting the students had been made in the meantime. In 1961 practical pharmacology was introduced to the curriculum. In 1962 it was decided that students would be supplied with a set of sterilised instruments for each patient. Prior to this, students purchased their own complete set of instruments and sterilised them in between patients. The increased number of patients had made this system impractical.

The new building allowed more students to enrol each year, with the number reaching about 50 in the early 1970s, enabling more patients to be treated. A further development occurred in 1983 when the Medical and Dental School remerged with Kings College. In 1998 a further merger too place when the School merged with the United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals.

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