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A Night at the Museum by Jennifer Ochman

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Where can you see a dental set that cleaned the teeth of royalty, or a massive dental cabinet built specifically for the Centennial Exhibit of 1876? At the National Dental Museum on the grounds of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

On Thursday, June 4, a team from Benco Dental traveled to Baltimore to help host the Lucy Hobbs Project annual celebration. I got to be part of that group and when we weren’t helping, we were checking out the dental treasures in the museum. I enjoyed it so much, I went back early that evening, before the cocktail party that was scheduled there. I wanted to visit the museum early and often.

The museum is in an historic, although unassuming, brick building on the campus of the University of Maryland. The rooms inside the museum are filled with artifacts, sounds and informative displays. Children and adults learn about proper oral hygiene and dental forensics, along with the history of dentistry.

The first floor of the museum contains displays of antique dental instruments, and dental cleaning products like mouthwashes and toothpaste. It also has instructive videos, a jukebox that plays vintage dental commercials and vintage toys that allowed children to play at being a dentist.

My favorite displays were the set of Queen Victoria’s dental instruments that her dentist used to clean the Queen’s teeth, along with a display of various porcelain jars of tooth paste, endorsed by Queen Victoria and adorned with her face. I also liked the tooth-shaped display housing various vintage jars of tooth paste; the graphics and fonts on each one were varied and very decorative, especially when you consider they only held humble tooth paste.

The museum consists of two levels and there was quite a display leading up to the second floor – a three-tier acrylic and metal display, each round platform holding a metal dental chair, each older and more ornate than the last, upholstered in rich, colored velvet and some additionally decorated with fringe.

The first few times I went up the stairs to the second floor of the museum, I failed to notice the stairs themselves. On about the third time, I finally looked at the stairs themselves and noticed that embedded in each newel post at the both the top and bottom of the stairs are the tops of various porcelain jars of tooth paste and every other baluster is actually a scaler!

The second floor hosts probably the most famous dentures in American history; the museum boasts one of President George Washington’s dentures made by New York dentist Dr. John Greenwood. The dentures and their history are situated in a special room with reproductions of paintings of the famous first President, showing the advancement of his dental problems.

Throughout the museum were antique dental tools, guaranteed to fascinate and repel the viewer. I stared at a display filled with various kinds of dental keys – a dental implement invented for no other use than to remove infected teeth from the mouth of a patient. A tool that saw a lot of use in an era prior to modern cavity-filling (and tooth-saving) techniques.

The museum is filled with many interesting artifacts of dentistry, plenty of history, lore, and information to tempt any student of the dental arts into spending an educational afternoon there. I encourage everyone make the trip to Baltimore and visit it.

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