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The birth of modern dentistry

National Dental Hospital

Cons Room 1Cons Room 1Cons Room 2Cons Room 2On 5th October 1859, the Metropolitan School of Dental Science was opened by the College of Dentists. Its purpose was to provide lectures and demonstrations to prepare students for the College Diploma. However, there were no facilities for clinical work.

Arrangements were made that these would be provided by the Westminster Dispensary although there is no evidence that these arrangements were actually implemented. To overcome this serious impediment to the training of dentists the College of Dentists formed a Committee to plan a dental hospital. Premises were found at 149 Great Portland Street and the National Dental Hospital was formally opened on 11th November 1861.

The purpose of this institution was to provide treatment to the poor and instruction to students. It was a popular institution and treated 2020 patients in its first year. This included 1223 extractions, 812 fillings, 12 cases of restoring teeth to their natural position and about 175 cases of cleaning and providing advice. Unfortunately no records as to how many students were studying at the school for the first few years of its existence although the 1963 annual report of lecturers states that 54 students had so far attended the courses of lectures provided.

The Hospital and School remained independent after the amalgamation of the College of Dentists with the Odontological Society on 4th May 1863, although they were now owned by the new body the Odontological Society of Great Britain. The Metropolitan School of Dental Science moved to the National Dental Hospital in Great Portland Street and adapted its curriculum to conform to the requirements of the LDS.

LabLabThe National Dental HospitalThe National Dental HospitalIn the early 1870s it appears that the title of Metropolitan School of Dental Science was quietly dropped. The dental journals of the day refer to students of the National Dental Hospital. In 1874 there were no lecturers on the staff and it is unclear whether there were any students enrolled at the School. However, by 1876 the school appears to have reinvented itself as the National Dental College and an article about the college bears that name in the 1874 Monthly Review of Dental Surgery.

The article states that the opening session of the College was to commence on the 1st May of that year. It also announces that the promoters of the institution were assisting in the efforts to raise the standards of dental education and had made arrangements to hold classes to prepare students for the preliminary examination in Arts.

There was also at this time some concern with the numbers of students undertaking the LDS exam. At this time there were no legal requirements for a dental practitioner to have obtained any qualification. The school found that some students were enrolling in single courses of lectures or for only one year in the hope of expanding their knowledge but without any intention of undertaking the LDS examination.

The Dental Reform Board was established with the intention of making it a requirement for dentists to have to undertake some form of formal qualification. They were successful in 1878 with the passing of the Dentists Act. This legislation restricted the use of the title dentist or dental surgeon to only qualified practitioners. The Dentists Register, first published in 1879, listed all qualified practitioners. The Dentists Act caused an increase in the number of students undertaking dental qualifications.

The 1878 Prospectus for the National Dental Hospital and College records the first formal notice of the Student’s Society which had been established on 15th March 1878. A previous students’ society had been established in 1870 at the National Dental Hospital.

National Rules and RegsNational Rules and RegsBy 1884 the number of patients attending the hospital had risen to 19281. The waiting and treatment rooms were often overcrowded although many of the rooms were furnished with modern equipment and the Hospital kept itself aware of modern developments in dental treatment. In June 1888 it offered a new postgraduate course which was open to all registered dental and medical practitioners. It was comprised of 12 lectures and demonstrations and cost 3 guineas for the full course. Other decisions made in 1888 were that students had to complete 300 fillings, 150 of which had to be foil. Students were required to provide their own instruments, a list of which was supplied by the school.

In 1893 the school and hospital was moved to new premises on the corner of Devonshire Street. The entire cost of the building had been donated by the Right Hon Lucy Cavendish Scott, Dowager Lady Howard de Walden.

The increased demand for artificial dentures in the late 19th century led the school to employ a Curator of the mechanical department. A review of the rules to allowed students and staff to construct dentures for patients although there were still strict rules governing who would be eligible. The school opened places for six students a year to undertake the three years mechanical training required by the LDS curriculum.

Towards the end of the 1890s there was a marked shortage of students. This was a real problem for the hospital as the majority of patients were treated by the students; the fewer students there were, the fewer patients could be treated. The fees had been raised in 1896 but this does not seem to be the cause of the shortage as other dental schools had higher fees. It appears to have reflected an overall decline in student numbers. It is possible that potential dentists were reluctant to undertake 3 years expensive training when their future livelihoods were threatened by the activities of the unqualified practitioners. The Hospital decided to distribute its calendar more widely and to advertise in the journals.

The Hospital had a thriving students’ society, which held many social activities as well as an ordinary meeting each month, which included speakers from the student body, staff or guests. The society awarded a prize of 5 guineas (with 3 guineas for a runner up) every year for the best paper by a student. The main social event was the Old and New Students Annual dinner. These were well attended, lively affairs with many courses, entertainment and speeches.

In the early 1900s a students’ subcommittee recommended that ‘before schedules could be signed, students’ must have carried out to the satisfaction of the Medical Officers, 150 foil, 150 amalgam, 150 cement or G.P. fillings, 6 crowns, the treatment of 30 pulpless teeth, 4 regulation cases, 6 sealing cases, 4 cases of Pyorrhoea and he must also have made and adjusted 6 dentures’. Bacteriology was introduced to the curriculum around this time and a new lecturer in the subject had to be appointed.

The first mention of an amalgamation with another dental hospital is found in the minutes of a Medical Committee meeting held on 29th February 1912. The Committee sent delegates to the Middlesex Hospital and the University College Hospital to discuss possible mergers. On 15th July 1912, on the recommendation of the delegates, the Medical Committee agreed to an amalgamation of the University College Hospital with the National Dental Hospital. After a delay pending reports from the Royal Commission on University Education, the amalgamation was finally completed in 1914.

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