Monday, June 02, 2008

History of dental education

As I have mentioned, it is by some reckonings the 110th anniversary of the OHSU School of Dentistry this year. We know that, for example, there were around 150 medical schools in North America around the turn of the century, but what about dentistry? Was the North Pacific Dental College one of a vast hoard of institutions of dental learning in America when it was established in 1899?

Well, if we turn to The Genesis of Dental Education in the United States by Van Broadus Dalton (great name!), we learn that there were, in fact, only fifty-four dental colleges in America in 1899. While this may not seem like a lot, given the medical school numbers and realizing that everyone has teeth which probably need attention at least once in a lifetime, it was too many for some. In a Flexnerian rant at the 1899 meeting of the National Association of Dental Faculties, a Dr. Jonathan Taft of the University of Michigan Dental Department warned:
There are fifty-four dental colleges in the United States. It is certainly a question as to whether this number is demanded by the needs of the country. The question arises when we consider the number seeking to enter the ranks of the dental profession. The question is also emphasized when the small number in attendance at many of these institutions is taken into account. It is further impressed by the unfitness of many applicants to enter upon such a course of study and work. There is not a dental college in this country whose classes would not be improved by the elimination of unworthy students, and there are some institutions that have scarcely any well-equipped students.
Could this have been, perhaps, a case of "Dental professor, heal thyself!"? Or, a cry for an Eastern monopoly on dental education? While it is true that records show only two graduates from NPC in 1899, you gotta start somewhere, right? By 1901, the school had a graduating class of 10, and the next year the number jumped to 41. It seems doubtful that students would have committed time and money to certification in a profession that wasn't "in demand." By 1922, there were more than 700 students in dentistry and pharmacy enrolled at NPC.

Today, the American Dental Education Association lists... about fifty-four schools of dentistry in America. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

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