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Fun Dental Facts and Trivia

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Famous Dental Trivia

     John Henry "Doc" Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) was an American dentist, gambler and gunfighter of the Old West, usually remembered for the friendship with Wyatt Earp and the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone.

"Doc was a dentist whom necessity had made a gambler; a gentleman whom disease had made a frontier vagabond; a philosopher whom life had made a caustic wit; a long lean ash-blond fellow nearly dead with consumption, and at the same time the most skillful gambler and the nerviest, speediest, deadliest man with a gun that I ever knew."     —Wyatt Earp

"Doc Holliday was afraid of nothing on earth."     —Bat Masterson



  Paul Revere (baptized January 1, 1735 – May 10, 1818) was an American Patriot in the American Revolution, as well as a well known silversmith and a prominent Freemason. In his younger years, Paul Revere produced many political engravings. He also advertised as a dentist in Boston at the same time that he became increasingly involved in the "Sons of Liberty".

After the  1773 Boston Tea Party Revere began his work as a Committee of Public Safety messenger, riding between New York and Philadelphia with messages of political unrest. It was after his death that he became most well known for his messenger role in the battles of Lexington and Concord.  His "midnight ride" is now a patriotic symbol in United States history. Revere helped organize the "intelligence and alarm" system that kept watch on the British military. After the war he recognized the potential of large scale metal manufacturing and was entrepreneurial in pursuing the trade.



   Thomas Bramwell Welch (December 31, 1825 – 1903) discovered the pasteurization process that prevented fermentation of grape juice. His was the first company to bottle grape juice.  Mr. Welch had a strong "Wesleyan Methodist Connexion". He was vehemently opposed to "manufacturing, buying, selling, or using intoxicating liquors"; and "slaveholding, buying, or selling" of slaves. 

 As a teenager, he was active in transporting escaped slaves from the South to Canada - The Underground Railroad. By age 19, he had graduated from "Gouvenrneur Wesleyan Seminary", becoming an ordained  Wesleyan Methodist minister. When his voice failed him in his work in ministry, Thomas turned to another career.  He attended the New York Central Medical College to become a physician. In 1856 Dr. Welch moved to Minnesota, changing his profession from physician to dentist.



       George F Grant (September 15, 1846 – 1910) was one of two black graduates of Harvard Dental School in 1870, where he later taught.

An avid golfer, Dr. Grant was very interested in the physics of golfing.  Trying to improve the game he was the first American to patent a golf tee in 1898. His tee was patented (# 639,920) on December 12, 1899. The tee was a peg with a rubber top that was pushed into the ground. The tee is very close to the modern tee, but it didn't have today's common concave head.  Dr. Grant did not market his invention.

Additionally, Grant is recognized internationally for the invention of a prosthetic dental device designed for treatment of cleft palate.



    William Lovell, Sr. (1863 – June 24, 1954) (Center in picture)  was the inventor of the first commercial wooden golf tee. Developed at Maplewood Golf Club in 1921, this is the golf tee commonly used today.  Originally named the "Reddy Tee" and patented in 1924, the tee was first stained green and later painted with red tops to be easily seen.

In 1922 Dr. Lovell signed a deal with A.G. Spalding to produce 24 dozen of his golf tees. The original patent was granted on May 13, 1925, and in that same year tee sales reached $100,000. The marketed tees were made of celluloid.  As soon as 1926, copycat versions appeared on the market. Dr. Lovell then spent a majority of his time and money fighting patent infringements. Although plastic tees are available today, the simple wooden tee is still the most commonly used.



   Pearl Zane Grey (January 31, 1872 – October 23, 1939) was best known for his Western adventure novels that presented an idealized image of the Old West. The "Internet Movie Database" credits 110 films, 1 TV episode, and the series "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater" to Dr. Grey. 

Zane's father, Lewis M. Grey, was also a dentist. The Grey family suffered a severe financial setback in 1889 caused by a poor investment by Dr. Lewis Grey.  Out of embarrassment the family moved from Zanesville, Ohio, to start anew in Columbus, Ohio.  Struggling to re-establish his dental practice, the senior Grey allowed young Zane to help out by making rural house calls and performing basic dental extractions - which he had learned from his father. Zane practiced dentistry until the Ohio State Board intervened.

At the same time, young Zane had aspirations of becoming a major league baseball player. Grey was eventually spotted by a baseball scout and began receiving college offers. Grey attended the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship, studying dentistry and joining the Sigma Nu Fraternity. After graduation, Dr. Zane Grey established a New York dental practice in 1896.  Dentistry in New York City was competitive, but he chose to be close to publishers as began to write in the evening to offset the tedium of his dental practice.



   William James Morrison (1860 – 1926) was from Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to being a dentist he was an avid inventor, credited with a number of inventions.

Among those inventions is the first cotton candy machine. He constructed the machine with John C. Wharton in 1897, and introduced the product in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair. It was an electric machine that first melted sugar and then pushed it through a wire screen with forced air. Dr. Morrison called his invention "Fairy Floss".  Dr. Morrison later was the President of the Tennessee State Dental Association.



  Horace Wells (January 21, 1815 – January 24, 1848) pioneered the use of the anesthesia, nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in dentistry. After obtaining his dental degree in Boston, Dr. Wells practiced in Hartford, Connecticut, with his associate Dr. William T. G. Morton.  (Dr. Morton became famous for the use of ether in dentistry).

Wells' first experience with the effects of laughing gas happened in 1844 when he volunteered in a demonstration by a member of a traveling circus named Gardner Quincy Colton. Because Dr. Wells "felt nothing" in the demonstration, Dr. Wells then became the first patient for extraction under nitrous oxide. The extraction was performed by his associate, Dr. John Riggs. Because his belief was that pain relief should be 'as free as the air', Dr. Wells did not seek a patent on the gas. Unfortunately, Dr. Wells demonstrated the discovery to Massachusetts General Hospital medical students in 1845, where the gas was not properly administered and the patient cried out in pain. The students jeered Dr. Wells off of the stage amid hisses and boos, discrediting him in medical and dental communities.

Dr. Wells gave up dentistry and became a travelling salesman. At some point, Dr. Horace Wells grew addicted to chloroform, where the negative effects of sniffing this chloroform and ether were not realized. The week of January 1848, Wells conducted a self-experiment with chloroform where over the course of the week he became increasingly deranged. Completely out of his mind, Wells rushed out into the street throwing sulfuric acid on 2 prostitutes. 

He was committed to the New York Tombs Prison for the crime. After the influence of the drug wore off, he realized the magnitude of his crime and committed suicide (using chloroform as an anesthetic) before slitting the artery in his leg with a razor.



    William Thomas Green Morton (August 9, 1819 – July 15, 1868) in 1846 first publically demonstrated the use of inhaled ether as a surgical anesthetic. In 1804, he attended Baltimore College of Dental Surgery.

He gained notoriety for development of a process that soldered false teeth into gold plates. Morton left dental school without graduating in 1841 to study under Dr. Horace Wells. Because his new wife's family disapproved of his profession, he agreed to study medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1844, but once again left school before completion. 

However, it was the study of chemistry under Dr. Charles T. Jackson where Dr. Morton learned of anesthetic properties of ether. Morton's pursuit for profit and credit in the administration of ether for medical purposes was complicated by the sometimes deceptive and furtive tactics he used during its development. Competing claims of the same discoveries by other doctors (most notably his former mentor Dr. Charles T. Jackson) created further frustration. Consequently, no effort was made to enforce Dr. Morton's patent and ether soon became standard in general use. Dr. Morton became obsessed in promotion of his claim as the discoverer of anesthesia, and it possessed him for the the rest of his life.



    Byron McKeeby (1867-1950) was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dr. McKeeby (Grant Wood's dentist) was portrayed as the stone-faced farmer in Wood's famous 1930 "American Gothic" painting. 

Grant Wood was an American painter with European training.  Wood spotted a small white house in Eldon, Iowa, that was built in the architectural Carpenter Gothic style.  Wood painted the house with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house."  He dressed his sister, Nan, in colonial style that mimicked 19th century dress as the woman in the painting. The 3 pronged pitch fork echoes the stitching of the man's overalls. And if you look closely, the Gothic window of the house matches the structure of the man's face. Elements of the work were painted separately and the models sat separately.  They never stood in front of the house. The painting showed in an Art Institute of Chicago competition, where it was called a "comic valentine". But the judges were convinced to award the bronze medal to the painting. 

The Art Institute purchased the painting, and it remains there today.  The image was printed in prominent newspapers around the country, creating a backlash when published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, when Iowans became furious at being depicted as "pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers". His response was that the caricature represented all Americans and not just Iowans.  The onset of the Great Depression brought the painting to light as representative of the steadfast American pioneer spirit.



   Paul Lemaire D'Augerville, a Paris dentist who in 1820 invented the firsts scuba diving apparatus.  D'Augerville decided to innovate over the common practice of using diving bells for salvage. Not much is known about D'Augerville's system.

 The apparatus consisted of copper backpack cylinder with a counter-lung for air conservation. It also had an inflatable lifejacket connected to it, with weights and an integrated buoyancy compensator that weighed over 100 pounds. The system was used for 15 to 20 meter dives in salvage work.  With the invention, Dr. D'Augerville was able to run a successful salvage company. This apparatus was used for only a few years and then faded into obscurity when the Siebe and Dean systems came into being. The speculation is that D'Augerville's may have also invented the Advanced Design  Buoyancy Compensator. 

Another interesting fact is that D'Augerville lived years earlier on the same street - Ave. St. Honore - as did Jacques-Yves Cousteau, another famous underwater innovator.  As others have said, "Watch out for scuba dentists!"



   John Greenwood (1760–1819) is known as George Washington's dentist. Washington's dentures were never made of wood.  It is known that Washington experienced frequent toothaches, each followed by extraction. Dr. John Greenwood was the son of Isaac Greenwood, the first native-born American dentist. The "A.D. Black History of Dentistry" Collection includes a 1799 letter written by John Greenwood to Lt. General George Washington about his denture charges.

 Some attribute Washington's "hair-trigger temper" to his constant battle with pain. George Washington constantly wrote to noted dentists asking for a file to repair his denture, scrapers to clean his teeth, and/or pliers to tighten wires fastening the appliances to his natural teeth.  At George Washington's 1789 inauguration, he wore a full set of dentures made by Dr. John Greenwood, with only one natural tooth remaining.  

The base of these dentures were carved to fit his gums from hippopotamus ivory. The uppers had ivory teeth, while the lowers had 8 human teeth, and a cow's tooth that were fastened and screwed into the base with gold pivots. The whole set was secured in his mouth by spiral springs. His next set of dentures was made in 1791, with a third following in 1795 (for which he paid $60).

All of the attempts to make dentures fit poorly and distorted the shape of his mouth. He may have ordered another set from Dr. Greenwood in 1797. Washington often returned his dentures for adjustments and repairs, once complaining that "they were forcing his lips out." The year before he died in 1798 a final set of dentures was made.  The dentures had a swagged gold plate, individual backings for each tooth, with each tooth being riveted to the backing. The lower denture of this set (with others) is on display at the Dr. Samuel D. Harris Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore.  Dr. Greenwood also invented the first known "dental foot engine" in 1790. 

    Historical descriptions of physical appearance refer to Washington's facial and vocal changes over the years. Portraits also show facial changes. Washington's first portrait by Charles Wilson Peale in 1757, shows the mouth to be quite small. The assumption is that Washington still had many natural teeth at 25 years old. Peale's 1776 portrait portrays  scar on Washington's left cheek caused by a fistula from an abscessed tooth. In this painting, his face is long and oval.


   James Gardette - Dr John Greenwood was not the only Dentist who fashioned false teeth for Washington - also credited is Dr. James Gardette for making a set that was very uncomfortable. In 1796, James Gardette made a large, very clumsy set, and Washington was not at all pleased. 



  Barney Clark, a Seattle, Washington dentist, was the first person to receive the Jarvik-7 artificial heart.  Dr. Clark suffered from severe congestive heart failure, and also had and existing lung disease. Today, Dr. Clark would not be considered a candidate for heart transplant.

Dr. Robert Jarvik designed the plastic and aluminum Jarvik-7 heart that was tethered to a 400 pound machine.  The heart was "designed to last a lifetime".  On December 1, 1982, Dr. William DeVries performed the surgery at the University of Utah Medical Center.  Reporters compared this ground breaking surgery to a 19th century "Frankenstein" because the heart pumped blood as efficiently as a natural heart could.

Unfortunately, the remainder of Dr. Clark's 112 days were extremely difficult. During those 112 days, he underwent 4 additional surgeries, had bleeding problems, and experienced long periods of confusion. Dr. Clark asked to die on many occasions.  Dr. Robert Jarvik is now working on the Jarvik 2000, a thumb-sized heart pump. "This came from the understanding that people want a normal life and just being alive is not good enough." - Dr. Robert Jarvik



    Albert P. Southwick (1826 - 1898) was a Buffalo, New York, noted dentist and dental educator.  Southwick is credited with invention of the first electric chair as means of execution. He was also a former steamboat engineer.

In 1881, Dr. Southwick witnessed a drunk man touch a live electric generator and die immediately. Dr. Southwick was shocked at the sight, but in thinking about the event afterward, he noted that the death was quick.  Dr. Southwick concluded that electricity would be a better alternative to execution than hanging and other means of execution.  He worked with David B. Hill, the governor of New York, to pass legislation making electric chair execution legal. 

Dr. Southwick also served on New York's Electrical Death Commission during 1888 & 1889, where the recommendation of use of electrocution be the valid form of Capital Punishment.  The first law allowing electrocution was effective on January 1, 1889.  The first electronic execution was performed on August 6, 1890, to William Kemmler (who had murdered his mistress) with Dr. Southwick present. Dr. Southwick reportedly said, "This is the culmination of ten years work and study."




    William Abb "Billy" Cannon (born August 2, 1937) (left on picture) was the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner and an inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

Cannon attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and is one of the American Football League's most celebrated players.  After the end of his pro football career, Billy earned his D.D.S. from the University of Tennessee, with additional degrees in orthodontia (braces) from Loyola University Chicago. 

Although Dr. Cannon had a successful practice, he became involved in a counterfeiting scheme. His attempt to get himself out of financial difficulties (stemming from bad real estate investments and gambling debts) led to prison.  Cannon printed $100 dollar bills, totaling $50 million dollars. The money was stored in ice chests and buried in the backyard of one of his rental properties. When released from prison in 1986, he was able to regained his license.  Dr. Cannon is the current resident dentist at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.



General Dental Facts

  • The average human produces 6,250 gallons of saliva in a lifetime.
  • The hardest substance in the human body are the teeth.
  • The force of a sneeze leaves the mouth at over 600 mph.
  • Most tooth loss under age 35 is caused by athletic trauma, fights or accidents.
  • Most tooth loss over age 35 is from Periodontal Disease.
  • Less than 10% of adults over age 65 have lost their teeth today.
  • Children begin to develop their primary (baby) teeth 6 weeks after conception.
  • If you don't floss, you miss cleaning 35% of all tooth surfaces.
  • Over three million miles of dental floss is purchased in North America each year.
  • Approximately $2 billion a year is spent on dental products a year in the United States . (toothpaste, mouthwash, floss and toothbrushes)
  • A tooth that has been knocked out starts to die within 15 minutes. Immediately put the tooth back into the socket if completely out, or hold the tooth in your mouth if very loose, and see a dentist ASAP!!
  • According to "Consumer's Report", Dentists are among the 5 most trusted professionals in the U.S. .
  • Jaw muscles can contract with a force as great as 55 pounds of pressure on anterior incisors, and 200-600 pounds of pressure per square inch on back molars. Denture wearers only have about 150 pounds per square inch in the back, and VERY little in the front.
  • One of the hardest foods to eat with dentures is lettuce - false teeth cannot "cut" the lettuce, so it just ends up sliding between the teeth.
  • 90% of systemic diseases have oral manifestations.
  • Regular dental cleanings can help prevent heart attacks.
  • Today the Tooth Fairy leaves an average of $1.00 per tooth.  In 1900 she left an average of twelve cents.
  • Athletes are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth when not wearing a mouth guard during athletic activities
  • Orthodontic brackets were invented by Edward Angle in 1915. If you or your parents had braces before 1970, they were probably similar to those invented by Dr.Angle.
  • Tooth Decay is the 2nd most common disease in the U.S. after the common cold.
  • Adults generally have 32 permanent teeth and children have 20 deciduous (baby) teeth.
  • 50% of North Americans were toothless 100 years ago.
  • People in the middle ages believed that boiling dog's teeth in wine was an excellent mouth rinse for prevention of tooth decay. Other ancient for toothache were to boil earthworms in oil and use the oil to put drops in your ear. And... to make loose teeth firm, tie a frog to your jaw.
  • In 700 B.C, the Etruscans carved false teeth from the teeth of various mammals, producing appliances that worked well enough to eat with.
  • During the Dark Ages, (400-1400 AD) popular belief was that you could grow a lost tooth by obtaining a tooth from someone else.
  • The first set of false teeth were discovered in the 8th century BC
  • The Sumarians described tooth decay in earliest records "tooth worms". Around 2700 BC, Chinese acupuncture was used to treat tooth pain.
  • Egyptians used a form of toothpaste over 5000 years ago.
  • The first braces were constructed by Pierre Fauchard in 1728 in France . These braces consisted of a flat strip of metal connected to the teeth by pieces of thread.
  • Ancient cultures chewed on twigs or roots to clean their teeth.
  • The first toothbrush with bristles was developed in China in 1948. The bristles were taken from hogs, and later horses and badgers. Nylon bristles were introduced in 1938 by Dupont.
  • Colgate introduced aromatic toothpaste in a jar in 1873.
  • Colgate dental cream was packaged in collapsible tubes in 1896.
  • The first American patent for a toothbrush was by H.N. Wadsworth.
  • The electric toothbrush first appeared in 1939.
  • In 1840 the world's first dental school opened in Baltimore .
  • In 1859, 26 dentists met at Niagara Falls and started the American Dental Association (A.D.A.) for the purpose of exchange of information.
  • U.S. and Japanese studies have found that black and green tea has antibacterial powers that help prevent cavities and gum disease
  • Over 40% of North Americans have at least one tooth that could benefit from some type of treatment
  • In Vermont it is illegal for women to wear false teeth without the written permission of their husband
  • 20% percentage of patients wear braces between the ages of 20 and 60.
  • It is advised to take children to the dentist for their first visit at age 3, and certainly before they begin school.
  • The Mexican plant Lippa Dulcis is 1000 times sweeter than table sugar, does not cause tooth decay, and may be the sweetener of choice in the future.
  • Ancient Chinese medicine points to at least 60 herbs noted for treatment of dental problems.
  • Certain cheeses (including Aged Cheddar, Swiss and Monterey Jack) have been found to protect teeth from decay. That may be because cheese raises the Ph of the mouth to over 6, where decay cannot occur.
  • Not only is tooth decay the most common and widespread disease of humankind, it is the oldest. Skulls of pre-historic humans have been examined and tooth decay has been found.



    ANIMAL Dental Trivia

  • Dogs have 42 teeth
  • Cats have 30 teeth
  • Pigs have 44 teeth
  • Mosquitoes have 47 teeth
  • Armadillos have up to 104 teeth
  • Sharks have an unlimited supply of teeth
  • Rabbits, squirrels and rodents have teeth that never stop growing. They keep them worn down by gnawing on things.
  • Some whales do not have teeth - instead they may have rows of stiff hair-like combs that take food from the ocean.
  • Snails have thousands of tiny teeth all lined up in rows.
  • Minnows have teeth in their throat.
  • Crocodile teeth are replaced over 40 times in a lifetime.
  • Turtles and tortoises are toothless.
  • One elephant tooth can weigh over 6 pounds.
  • All snakes have teeth (usually 6 rows that are curved backwards to keep prey from escaping) even though all snakes do not have fangs.
  • "Long in the Tooth" originally described the teeth of horses related to old age. As the gums of horses recede over time, the teeth look longer. 
  • Aardvark teeth have no enamel coating that is worn away and regenerated continuously.
  • The mammal that has the most teeth is the long snouted spinner dolphin with 252 teeth.




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