More Fun Than a Fluoride Treatment: Baltimore's Dentistry Museum

By Joe Rosen

Reed Travel Features

"For I would have you know, Sancho, that a mouth without molars is like a mill without a stone, and a tooth is more precious than a diamond." -- Cervantes, "Don Quixote," 1605.

BALTIMORE -- Yes, I know, your Baltimore-bound clients want to see an Orioles game at Camden Yards, and their kids want to splash with the fishes at the National Aquarium. But no calls for the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry? No interest in orthodontics? Pyorrhea? Teeth scalers? People just don't know how to have fun.

Located here on the campus of the University of Maryland -- not so incidentally (get it? in-ci-dentally?) the site of the world's first dental school -- the museum celebrates man-kind's triumph over the ordinary toothache and the extraordinary overbite and has a few open-mouthed laughs while doing so. All the immortals are enshrined here, a veritable dental hall of fame: Charles (the X-Man) Kells, who blazed trails in X-ray diagnostics; Willoughby Dayton Miller, who filled a void in the study of cavities; the Wild West's O. A. Kenck, of "have pliers, will travel" fame, and Clifton O. Dummett, smart enough to be the youngest dental school dean ever. Among the missing: a bust of my uncle, Dr. Mort, the record holder for most extractions in a 162-game season.

A total of 750 artifacts and graphics are on view, from the gapped toothbrush of Mad Magazine's gap-toothed Alfred E. Newman to George Washington's ivory -- not wood -- dentures. Also featured among the artfully mounted exhibits, which span two floors and 7,000 square feet of space, are interactive displays, historical artifacts, primitive dental devices, vintage TV commercials and the re-creation of the temporary office of an itinerant dentist.

One exhibit enables visitors to watch film clips of "Hollywood Dentists," among them Laurel and Hardy, the Little Rascals, Charlie Chaplin and W. C. Fields. In his cinematic snippet, an exercise in sado-eroticism that must have caught the censors napping, Fields wields a heavy hand with an achingly vulnerable female patient.

Fields' depiction of a dirty dentist aside, kids will love the museum, which highlights exhibits designed to delight, engage and educate them. Who knows: Impressionable youngsters just might wind up ready to brush three times a day and floss after meals.

Admission is $4.50 for adults (ages 19 to 59), $2.50 for youths (ages 7 to 18), senior citizens and students with ID, and free for children age 6 and under. The museum is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. For more information and group rates, call (410) 706-0600; fax (410) 706-8313.

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