- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry separates once and for all the myth and reality surrounding one of America’s forefathers.

George Washington did not have wooden teeth. He did, however, suffer from dental problems for 40 years and had dentures made from elephant ivory, hippo ivory and cattle teeth.

Such moments in dental history are honored at the 8-year-old museum in downtown Baltimore. All aspects of dentistry are covered here. Among them: the evolution of instruments from crude blacksmith tools to state-of-the-art surgical supplies, toothbrushes from pieces of tree bark to battery-powered ones with superhero designs, and the importance of dental hygiene.

“We are showcasing the history of dentistry through art and artifacts, but it is not just about pearly whites,” museum spokeswoman Kristin Foster says. “Many of our displays are about how oral health affects overall health.”

The George Washington exhibit is one of the museum’s most popular, Ms. Foster says. The museum hosts family programs focusing on the first president and his legendary teeth each February around Presidents Day.

The George Washington room at the dental museum has a good deal of research backing it. Dr. Reidar Sognnaes, former dean of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Dentistry, researched and analyzed George Washington’s dental records and the remaining dentures from 1973 to 1980 to come up with his findings.

The centerpiece of the George Washington collection is his lower denture, crafted in 1795 by the president’s longtime dentist, Dr. John Greenwood. There also is a showcase of various reproductions of Washington’s other teeth, as well as other historical artifacts and information about the president and his health.

Nearby is a gallery with reproductions of famous Washington portraits. The display notes that Washington, self-conscious about his tooth loss, always kept his mouth closed during those sittings.

Those associated with the dental profession will appreciate some of the more scientific aspects of the museum — such as the history of dental education in the United States and the biology of tooth decay.

However, young people will enjoy the way the museum has taken universal experiences such as brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist and presented them in an entertaining fashion.

Some of the highlights in the museum’s permanent collection, called 32 Terrific Teeth, include:

• Teeth as circus performers (enabling an acrobat to hang from a rope, for example).

• The origins of teeth. This display includes a wall of skulls that show how human, alligator, bear and shark teeth, among others, have adapted over time.

• The legends and traditions surrounding teething and the tooth fairy around the world. Included in this showcase are a Civil War-era teething rattle and a recent letter from a 9-year-old Glen Burnie, Md., boy to the tooth fairy.

• Teeth as TV and movie stars. Several kiosks have videos showing how dentists and toothaches have been portrayed by the media. Among the favorites: an old “Our Gang” film in which Alfalfa fears getting a tooth pulled and several famous mouthwash and toothpaste TV commercials dating to the 1950s.

The importance of dental care is also presented in a child-friendly way. In fact, the museum is a popular spot for school groups and Scout troops. The latter can earn a badge for participating in an oral-health program, Ms. Foster says.

Included in the prevention section are “Branches, Bristles and Batteries: The Evolution of the Toothbrush,” a large display of toothbrushes through time. A similar wall showcases the history of toothpaste.

An animated computer presentation titled “The Marvelous Mouth” presents an interactive lesson about oral health, the dangers of tobacco use, tooth development and careers in dentistry.

The museum tour’s final stop is the Terrific Tooth Tales room, where dental-themed books from around the world are displayed. It contains a child-size pretend dental office and a couple of oral-health computer programs for hands-on discovery. There also is a reading nook where children can sit with a good book about — what else? — teeth.

WHEN YOU GO:

• What: Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry

• Where: 31 S. Greene St., Baltimore

• Directions: Take Interstate 95 north to Interstate 395 into downtown Baltimore. Exit at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Turn right onto Baltimore Street, then right onto Greene Street. The museum is on the left.

• Hours: Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays, Tuesdays and major holidays

• Admission: $4.50 for adults; $2.50 for youths, senior citizens and students with ID; free for children 6 and younger. Group rates are available.

• Parking: Limited metered street parking is available in front of the museum. There are nearby pay parking garages.

• Miscellaneous: The museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, provides oral-health-care information in a student-friendly manner. It also has exhibits on the history of the profession, the evolution of various species’ teeth and human teeth, dental instruments through the years, and tooth care as part of pop culture and Hollywood.

An entire room is devoted to the investigation of whether George Washington indeed had wooden teeth. The museum will host its annual “Happy Birthday to George Washington — and his Teeth” on Feb. 20.

• Information: Phone 410/706-0600, or click to www.dentalmuseum.org.

WHEN YOU GO:

• What: Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry

• Where: 31 S. Greene St., Baltimore

• Directions: Take Interstate 95 north to Interstate 395 into downtown Baltimore. Exit at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Turn right onto Baltimore Street, then right onto Greene Street. The museum is on the left.

• Hours: Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.; closed Mondays, Tuesdays and major holidays

• Admission: $4.50 for adults; $2.50 for youths, senior citizens and students with ID; free for children 6 and younger. Group rates are available.

• Parking: Limited metered street parking is available in front of the museum. There are nearby pay parking garages.

• Miscellaneous: The museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, provides oral-health-care information in a student-friendly manner. It also has exhibits on the history of the profession, the evolution of various species’ teeth and human teeth, dental instruments through the years, and tooth care as part of pop culture and Hollywood.

An entire room is devoted to the investigation of whether George Washington indeed had wooden teeth. The museum will host its annual “Happy Birthday to George Washington — and his Teeth” on Feb. 20.

• Information: Phone 410/706-0600, or click to www.dentalmuseum.org.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide