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The birth of modern dentistry

Legislation

Certificate from the College of Dentists awarded to John Wood, July 1861. (BDA Museum ref: 14020)Certificate from the College of Dentists awarded to John Wood, July 1861. (BDA Museum ref: 14020)Memorial presented to the Royal College of Surgeons, 1855. LDBDA: 9759Memorial presented to the Royal College of Surgeons, 1855. LDBDA: 9759By 1855 there were two main parties campaigning for reform in the practice of dentistry; the Memorialists and the Independents. The Memorialists were formed from some of the practitioners who had petitioned the Royal College of Surgeons in 1843 as well as other leading dentists of the day. The Independents were formed after a letter from a young Croydon dentist, Samuel Lee Rymer, appeared in the Lancet calling for the formation of an independent profession.

The Memorialists wanted the education and issuing of diplomas to be under the control of the Royal College of Surgeons. They believed the authority and reputation of the Royal College of Surgeons was necessary for dentistry to be recognised as a legitimate profession. In December 1855 they sent a request to the Royal College of Surgeons asking them to recognise dentistry as a special branch of surgery and to institute exams in dental surgery, however, nothing came of this request.

The Independents believed dentists should be responsible for their own education and proposed setting up an independent college of dentistry to provide training and to administer qualifications.

James Parkinson: oil painting, artist unknown, 1885 (BDA Museum, ref: LDBDA 4208)James Parkinson: oil painting, artist unknown, 1885 (BDA Museum, ref: LDBDA 4208)Sir John Tomes: oil painting by Carlisle Henry Hayes McCartney (BDA Museum)Sir John Tomes: oil painting by Carlisle Henry Hayes McCartney (BDA Museum)On 10th November 1856 the Memorialists formed the Odontological Society becoming the first professional dental society in England. A day later the College of Dentists was formed by the Independents and both societies set about establishing their visions.

The College of Dentists concentrated on expanding their membership and establishing their training for current and prospective dentists. They envisioned one or two dental schools supplying first class instruction at a moderate cost. Candidates would be instructed in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, natural philosophy, dental surgery, pathology and dental practice but would then be responsible for gaining additional information through reading or attending lectures. Candidates would be subject to a ‘sound and practical examination’ before a qualification was issued.

Meanwhile the Odontological Society was facing a problem; the charter of the Royal College of Surgeons did not enable it to introduce a dental qualification. In February 1857 the Society tried to persuade the Royal College of Surgeons to take advantage of a Medical Bill that was currently going through Parliament to establish a department of dental surgery.

The Royal College of Surgeons replied suggesting that the Society petition Parliament directly. In the end the Medical Bill was withdrawn but in May 1857 another was proposed. The Society sent a deputation consisting of Messrs John Herring Parkinson, William Anthony Harrison and John Tomes to Parliament to request a clause be included giving the Royal College of Surgeons powers to institute examinations in dentistry.

They were successful and on 2nd August 1858 the Medical Act 1858 was passed. It included the following clause:

It shall, notwithstanding anything herein contained be lawful for Her Majesty, by charter, to grant the Royal College of Surgeons of England power to institute and hold examinations for the purpose of testing the fitness of persons to practise as dentists, who may be desirous of being so examined, and to grant certificates of such fitness.

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