Oral History

Originally practiced by barbers, dentistry became a legitimate medical profession at the end of the eighteenth century.  The Historical Society has a few interesting examples of tools used by dentists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company was one of the earliest in the country, beginning in 1844 in Philadelphia.  They grew to be the largest dental manufacturer in the world.  This set of tooth forms, housed in the Society collection, was created in the early twentieth century.  The tooth forms were used as molds to create crowns of gold and other metals.


This set of dental tools was made sometime between the 1830s and 1870s.  They were used by Dr. Charles Powell Harry, a dentist active in Norristown from 1830 onward.  His son, Dr. Charles Howard Harry carried on his business and also used these tools before donating them to the Historical Society.  Each handle is made of mother-of-pearl in the shape of a fishtail, with inlaid garnet and topaz.  The hooked tools are scalers, which scrape calculus from the surface of a tooth, and the flatter tools with a sharp edge are elevators, which assist in tooth extraction.


Although these look like they’ve come out of a handyman’s toolkit, they’re really meant to be used in your mouth!  These tools date to the 1860s, and were used in North Wales by Dr. William H. Wampole.  The tools are used for extracting teeth, and the designs haven’t changed too much in a century and a half.


This partial denture was made of porcelain and colored by Jesse C. Green, a resident of Montgomery County, and then put on exhibit at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.



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