Dentists in History
Benjamin Lewis Salomon (1914 – 1944) was born into a Jewish family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 1, 1914. He was an Eagle Scout, one of nine who were awarded the Medal of Honor. He graduated from Shorewood High School and attended Marquette University, before transferring to the University of Southern California, where he completed his undergraduate degree. He graduated from the USC Dental School in 1937 and began a dental practice.
In 1940, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and began his military service as an infantry private, qualifying expert in rifle and pistol. In 1942, he was notified that he would become an officer in the Army Dental Corps and was commissioned a first lieutenant. In August 14, 1942, the 102nd Infantry Regt. commanding officer declared him the unit’s “best all-around soldier”. In May 1943, he was serving as the regimental dental officer of the 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. He was promoted to the rank of captain in 1944.
In June 1944, Salomon saw his first combat — going ashore on Saipan with the 105th Infantry. With little dental work to do during active combat, Salomon volunteered to replace the 2nd Battalion’s surgeon, who had been wounded. As the 2nd Battalion advanced, casualties were high. On July 7, Salomon’s aid station was set up only 50 yards behind the forward foxhole line. Fighting was heavy and a major Japanese assault soon overran the perimeter, then the aid station. Salomon was able to kill the enemy that entered the hospital tent and ordered the wounded to be evacuated, while he stayed to cover their withdrawal.
Medal of Honor Citation
CAPTAIN BEN L. SALOMON
UNITED STATES ARMY
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Captain Ben L. Salomon was serving at Saipan, in the Marianas Islands on July 7, 1944, as the Surgeon for the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. The Regiment’s 1st and 2d Battalions were attacked by an overwhelming force estimated between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese soldiers. It was one of the largest attacks attempted in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Although both units fought furiously, the enemy soon penetrated the Battalions’ combined perimeter and inflicted overwhelming casualties. In the first minutes of the attack, approximately 30 wounded soldiers walked, crawled, or were carried into Captain Salomon’s aid station, and the small tent soon filled with wounded men. As the perimeter began to be overrun, it became increasingly difficult for Captain Salomon to work on the wounded. He then saw a Japanese soldier bayoneting one of the wounded soldiers lying near the tent. Firing from a squatting position, Captain Salomon quickly killed the enemy soldier. Then, as he turned his attention back to the wounded, two more Japanese soldiers appeared in the front entrance of the tent. As these enemy soldiers were killed, four more crawled under the tent walls. Rushing them, Captain Salomon kicked the knife out of the hand of one, shot another, and bayoneted a third. Captain Salomon butted the fourth enemy soldier in the stomach and a wounded comrade then shot and killed the enemy soldier. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Captain Salomon ordered the wounded to make their way as best they could back to the regimental aid station, while he attempted to hold off the enemy until they were clear. Captain Salomon then grabbed a rifle from one of the wounded and rushed out of the tent. After four men were killed while manning a machine gun, Captain Salomon took control of it. When his body was later found, 98 dead enemy soldiers were piled in front of his position. Captain Salomon’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Captain Salomon is the only dentist to receive the Medal of Honor.
Dr. Horace Henry Hayden (1769-1844), Read more
Greene Vardiman Black (1836–1915), commonly known as G.V. Black, is known as one of the founders of modern dentistry in the United States. He is also known as the father of operative dentistry. He was born near Winchester, Illinois on August 3, 1836. He spent his early life on a farm and quickly developed an interest in the natural world. After the Civil War, in which he served as a Union scout, he relocated to Jacksonville, Illinois. It was here that he began an active career and research in the developing field of dentistry. He studied dentistry for 20 months, as was common at the time, followed by an apprenticeship. He taught in the Dental Department at the University of Iowa, beginning in 1890 before moving to Chicago.
He researched many important topics in dentistry, including the cause of dental fluorosis and ideal cavity preparations. One of his many inventions was a foot-driven dental drill. He is also known for his principles of tooth preparations, in which he outlines the proper methods to prepare teeth for fillings. These cavity preparations used principles of engineering and material sciences to maximize strength and retention of the amalgam filling and minimize fractures as well as tooth anatomy, to minimize pulp exposure. The phrase, “extension for prevention”, is still famous in the dental community today and represents Black’s idea that dentists should incorporate more grooves and pits than those currently exhibiting decay as a preventive measure against those grooves and pits developing tooth decay in the future, although today ideas have changed and focus much more on minimal intervention. Black published his concepts and ideals in his text Manual of Operative Dentistry in 1896.
Further, he organized ‘Black’s Classification of Caries Lesions’ which is still in use today. Since that time, only one more category has been added to his classification system.
Black’s Classification of Caries Lesions:
- Class I Caries affecting pits and fissures on occlusal third of molars and premolars, occlusal two thirds of molars and premolars, and lingual part of anterior teeth.
- Class II Caries affecting proximal surfaces of molars and premolars.
- Class III Caries affecting proximal surfaces of central incisors, lateral incisors, and cuspids without involving the incisal angles.
- Class IV Caries affecting proximal including incisal angles of anterior teeth.
- Class V Caries affecting gingival 1/3 of facial or lingual surfaces of anterior or posterior teeth.
- Class VI (never described by Black, added later by W J Simon in 1956) Caries affecting cusp tips of molars, premolars, and cuspids.
In addition to developing a standard for cavity preparations, G.V. Black also experimented with various mixtures of amalgam. After years of experimentation, Black published his balanced amalgam formula in 1895. This formula and its variations quickly became the gold standard and would remain such for almost 70 years. Black’s son, Arthur continued the legacy of his father, continuing dental research, gaining academic and political support for the importance of the sciences in dental education, and making university education mandatory for dentists.
G.V. Black was the second Dean of Northwestern University Dental School, where his portrait hung until the school’s closure in 2001. His statue can be found in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. He was also inducted in the International Hall of Fame of Dentistry of the Pierre Fauchard Academy on February 25, 1995.
John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887)
George Washington never owned a set of wooden teeth, but he did own many sets of dentures.
Paul Revere (January 1735-May 10, 1818) was an American silversmith, engraver, early industrialist, and Patriot in the American Revolution. He is best known for his midnight ride to alert the colonial militia in April 1775 to the approach of British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord, as dramatized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride”.
During the 1760’s, an English dental surgeon named Dr. John Baker taught Revere how to make and fit patients with artificial teeth. Revere set up his own practice in Boston and advertised his services in the Boston Gazette in 1770. The National Museum of Health and Medicine notes that Revere fitted Dr. Joseph Warren (June 11, 1741 – June 17, 1775), a Harvard trained physician and fellow patriot, with a set of ivory dental prosthetics to replace his upper left canine and first premolar that he had attached to Warren’s jaw with gold wire.
Paul Revere inadvertently became America’s first forensic dentist when he was given the gruesome task of identifying the body of Dr. Joseph Warren, the man who sent him on his famous “midnight ride”. Warren was struck down by a British bullet during the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 and his corpse was buried in a mass grave. When Warren’s family unearthed the grave nine months later, visual identification of the bodies inside was near impossible because they had decomposed. So Revere, the man who crafted the slain officer’s false teeth, was asked to locate Warren’s remains by finding the ivory dentures he crafted and wired to Warren’s jaw.
Identification of a person based on their teeth was an unconventional technique in the 18th century. Paul Revere’s use of simple forensic dentistry is described by the National Museum of Health and Medicine as “one of the earliest cases of forensic evidence used to identify a fallen American soldier”.
The History of Dentistry
Horace Wells (1815-1848) was a compassionate dentist of deep religious convictions. In the aftermath of an especially agonizing dental operation, he would sometimes stop work for several weeks, too traumatized by the need to inflict such terrible pain on his patients to continue. Fortunately, he persevered.
On 10th December 1844, Wells recognized that nitrous oxide might prove a godsend to surgical medicine. Wells decided that the first guinea pig should be himself. So, he had an erupting wisdom tooth extracted using the higher dosages of nitrous oxide needed to induce insensibility. The extraction was a success, and he performed over a dozen extractions using nitrous oxide within a month. His student and partner, William Morton, encouraged him to demonstrate his finding. The demonstration at Massachusetts General Hospital failed because the gas bag was withdrawn too soon, and the patient was only partially anesthetized. He continued his attempts to promote nitrous oxide anesthesia, even travelling to Europe, where there was wider acceptance.
Meanwhile, William Morton experimented with ether, and administered the first successful general anesthetic to a patient for the removal of a neck tumor. The demonstration was performed at the same location where Wells was disgraced, which is now a historical monument called The Ether Dome.
Both Wells and Morton died despondent and bankrupt. Every dentist should read their very important biographies as their contributions are medical, surgical and ethical milestones.