Digitizing Dentistry's Multifaceted History

Why It Is Necessary

  • Chase A. Van Tilburg Florida State University
Keywords: Open Access, Dentistry, Dental History Database, Multifaceted


In 1929, the Gies Report was published by William J. Gies, outlining the foundational criteria for a relatively standardized dental education across the United States. Although it was not included in Gies’ original report, the history of dentistry would eventually become an essential part of that foundational curriculum. Contemporary dental education has pushed the history of dentistry to the side implying that the history of dentistry is unnecessary. Doing so causes much of the responsibility to educate both dental students and the public to fall on institutions like the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry (NMD). The creation of an open-access digital dental history database at the NMD that highlights the multifaceted nature of dental history will be a necessary step forward and vital resource for curtailing the agnostic attitude that has developed around the history of dentistry.

Much of the scholarship about the history of dentistry has addressed various aspects of the discipline’s development over time. They have inadequately addressed the reason why the history of dentistry is as vital to discuss today as it was fifty years ago. Filling this noticeable gap is necessary because more and more dental students are leaving dental school with little knowledge about the history of their discipline and where they fit within that history. Tracing the history of dental education in the United States, examining some of the many facets of the history of dentistry, and providing a comparative analysis of different physical and online dental history collections are the strategies utilized to fill this gap. First, two interviews conducted with Dr. Andrew I. Spielman, President of the American Academy of the History of Dentistry, and Dr. Scott Swank, curator of the NMD, evaluated the state of the history of dentistry in contemporary dental curricula. In addition to these two interviews, understanding what makes the history of dentistry multifaceted is integral in understanding the impact of the field on the profession, contemporary society, and why the history of dentistry needs to be taught or learned. Finally, a comparison of physical and online dental collections to evaluate best practices for creating an online dental history collection and an examination of how such a database can be used by the stewarding institution is discussed.

Author Biography

Chase A. Van Tilburg, Florida State University

Chase A. Van Tilburg is pursuing a master’s degree in the History and Criticism of Art and Architecture at Florida State University. He is a digitization graduate intern at the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, MD. His research focuses on the use of contemporary technology, such as augmented and virtual reality, in the digital recording and preservation of art and cultural heritage. He examines how such technologies can enhance art historical study, humanities education, and the advancement/enhancement of the museum visitor experience.

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