Street Dentistry - History


Before the 20th century, dentistry was largely unregulated. In Europe during the Middle Ages, it was often practiced by monks, who were the most educated of the period. Barbers and blacksmiths, too, performed dental services. One of the first attempts to regulate the practice of dentistry came in France in 1400, when royal decrees prohibited barbers not in the Guild of Barbers from performing surgical procedures except for bleeding, cupping, leeching, and extracting teeth.

In the United States in 1840, Horace Hayden and Chapin Harris established the world's first school of dentistry, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, and created the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. In the same year, the world’s first national dental organization, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, was founded. In 1841, Alabama instituted the first dental practice act, regulating the practice of dentistry in the United States.

In New York around the turn of the century, street dentists like Edgar R.R. "Painless" Parker flourished. Despite dentistry becoming regulated, unlicensed dentists still practiced, often offering inferior services, prompting some to call for their prosecution.

As many as 5000 unlicensed dentists may have practiced in New York in the early 1900s. In 1900, 283 complaints were received by the Law Committee of the New York State Dental Society. Some patients died from infections and abscesses resulting from lack of sanitation. Others died from improper administration of anaesthetic. According to a newspaper report in 1910, many of these dentists were immigrants whose home countries did not regulate dentistry as stringently as did the United States.

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