If you have a serious phobia about that guy with the drill, you might want to sidestep the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry.
Located in the University of Maryland Medical Center complex on the hallowed grounds of the world's first dental school (founded in 1840), its 40,000 objects tell a history rich with painful trial and error.
There's the 13th-century English stained-glass pane of a saint holding some really big forceps with a giant molar captured in them (did we miss this dentistry part in Deuteronomy or Leviticus?); a scary bit of Egyptian archeology that shows how rich folks short on choppers used gold wire to install teeth requisitioned from their indentured servants (sorry about that); and the scary-looking tools used by Queen Victoria's dentist (along with a photo of her highness looking a little down in the mouth). In a correspondence from George Washington to his silversmith, he admits he bit off more than he could chew when he filed his false teeth down himself to make them less painful to wear. (They were ivory, by the way, not wooden.) And then there's the mini-exhibit on how we can figure out who the heck you are from the charred teeth you left behind in the fiery plane crash—now that's a brush with death.
So who would come here to relive all this toothache?
The answer, as it turns out, is dentists and their families, hygenists and kin, dental students, and a lot of visiting foreigners, perhaps from places where a full set of teeth is something they see only on Friends reruns back in the old country. There are also a lot of kids parading through here every year, so they can learn how to fight tooth and nail for good oral health.
Lucky for us, we're visiting the museum during National Children's Dental Health Month, which has drawn teacher Kim Kinner's lively first graders from Clarksville Elementary School.
So you might think getting opinions out of seven-year-olds would be like pulling teeth, but they seem to be telling us that all this pain under glass at the museum is giving modern dentistry a bad name. And some were downright excited about the idea of going to the dentist.
We started with Bobby, asking him what he was doing at a dental museum, and he explained, quite logically, that the class was "learning about teeth in school." So what about you, Bobby: Do you like going to the dentist? His "Yes!" was so emphatic that we had to know more. "They have toys and candy," he responds. So dental bribery is working for America.
So, how about you, Will: Do you like going to the dentist, too? His "Yes!" was even more enthusiastic. So, Will, who is this dentist that is so great, anyway? His eyes search for one of the parents who have volunteered to cat-herd the group. "My Dad," he says, pointing to Dr. Patrick Gochar, DDS, who practices in Clarksville. Clearly, there's a family bias going on here.
After sitting cross-legged on the floor of the museum lobby to learn Dental 101 from Ms. Kinner, they get to photograph their smiles on a big screen, play with a giant plastic mouth and toothbrush while wearing lab coats, and watch the retro toothpaste ads on a big, mouth-shaped screen. And then they get to enjoy the rows of glass cases filled with dental-themed toys from the 1930s forward: Among them are an E.T. toothbrush, or, better yet, the SpongeBob SquarePants power toothbrush; the Barbie dentist set, complete with chair, drill, and young victim; and an actual set of toy dental tools under the apt brand name of Dennis the Menace.
So, what do we know now about our teeth?
Our lesson learned: That we should all just quit our jobs and floss all day—or that bad ol' saint with the big forceps'll get you.