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The birth of modern dentistry

Dental Hospital of London

Dental Hospital of LondonDental Hospital of LondonOn 1st December 1858, the Odontological Society opened the doors of the Dental Hospital of London at 32 Soho Square. On 1st October 1859 the London School of Dental Surgery was established at the same address. The purpose of the hospital was to provide facilities for the practical training of students as well as to provide free treatment to the poor. The first student to enrol was 22 year old William Frederick Forsyth, who gained the LDS within a year.

The Dental Hospital was very popular. The Annual Reports record that 2116 patients visited in 1859 and while 22627 operations were carried out in 1872. One of the reasons for this popularity was that conservation work was available at the hospital at a time when the majority of hospitals only offered extraction. Students were initially supervised by Six Dental Surgeons who attended daily, Sundays excepted. The high work load meant they were joined by six Assistant Dental Surgeons in 1963.

An article in the British Journal of Dental Science in September 1865 describes the method of working.

'watch in turn the nine or ten chairs, attended to by careful earnest students, working to the benefit of the poor patients with as much zeal and care as if they were to receive a five guinea fee for each stopping, never attempting more than they feel themselves competent to accomplish, and at any moment of the day, so that at no time is the poor patient the victim of inexperience or experiment'.

By 1874, the facilities at the Soho premises were no longer able to cope with the high demand for treatment. In 1874 new premises were found at No. 40 Leicester Square and the new building officially opened on 12th March of that year.

Unfortunately this building soon became unsuitable and from 1886 discussions were made over the possibility of moving to new premises. It was decided to build the new hospital from scratch so that it could be designed by the staff of the hospital to contain all the necessary facilities. A site was found at Nos. 34 – 39 Leicester Square and these premises were bought along with several surrounding buildings. The new hospital was opened in March 1901 with state of the art facilities and equipment. The March 1901 issue of the Journal of the British Dental Association said of the new building:

'Everything has been done to make the new Hospital the finest possible. There is abundance of room, every department is well ventilated and comfortably heated, and the sanitary arrangements are all that could be desired.’

King Edward VII came to the throne in the same year and the management of the Hospital applied to him to become Patron of the Hospital. He agreed and henceforth the institution was now known as the Royal Dental Hospital of London.

In 1911 the school formed an association with the University of London.

The school and hospital kept up to date with surgical and teaching developments including some early experiments in dental x-rays. However, the First World War saw a fall in income and students with the numbers falling from around 50 to only 7. Female staff and students were allowed onto the course during this time. The Hospital was used to treat army recruits and the wounded, with the War Office taking over roughly half of the clinical accommodation.

After the First World War, the number of students and patients increased, with 59292 patients attending in 1921. A course for dental nurses was proposed in 1929 but there were many who were strongly opposed and it did not come to fruition until 1944.

The Hospital and School adopted the slogan ‘We never closed!’ throughout the Second World War. The Hospital and School were kept open with a skeleton staff with the students providing treatment to those who needed it. Much of the more valuable equipment had been moved to the basement where a specially constructed shelter which could house 150 people had been constructed. The Hospital was only hit once by a land mine when it landed on Panton Street, severely damaging the corner of the hospital building. Students and staff cleared away the debris and within a week the essential repairs had been carried out and the Hospital was again running a full service.

After the Second World War, in 1948, the Hospital transferred to the care of St. Georges Hospital Group. Due to increased demand for services, the premises had to expand again. Education wise, the BDS was growing in popularity and the School was able to offer postgraduate opportunities. By the early 1980s, the Hospital and School were in danger of closure so a merger was proposed. By the end of 1985 this had been completed. The Hospital had merged with the Royal Dental Unit in St. Georges and the school with the United Medical and Dental Schools (previously the United Medical Schools of Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals) at London Bridge. The Leicester Square premises were sold to become a hotel. A plaque can still be seen at the sight commemorating the hospital and the staff and students who worked there.

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