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Nebraska dental museum opens wide with history
|Written by GRANT SCHULTE, Associated Press|
|Tuesday, 13 September 2011 09:11|
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Dr. Stan Harn glances over his spread of primitive dental tools and grabs a T-shaped metal instrument with a hook on one end.
This, he explains, is a turnkey. It looks like, and may have inspired, the modern-day basin wrench. The metal hook goes into a patient's mouth and latches onto a damaged tooth. The dentist clutches the handle and twists. Turn too hard and patients could—and sometimes did—lose a piece of jaw.
“You can see the amount of torque it generates,” Harn said. “It was brutal.”
The turnkey is arguably the most cringe-inducing tool in a University of Nebraska Medical Center collection that includes foot-powered drills, wartime dental chairs and X-ray machines with exposed wiring. The College of Dentistry will show off such tools at its free, once-a-year museum that will be open this week through Saturday in Lincoln.
Harn, the curator and an oral biology professor, has spent more than three decades collecting dental history—remnants of a time when the profession was simpler, with less oversight and more pain. The journey has taken him to dusty cellars, filthy barns, antique shops and flea markets. One dental cabinet came from a prison.
Others have intricate, hand-carved designs and hidden compartments to stash gold fillings. Toothbrushes made with cow bones and pig bristles sit behind a glass encasement. Nearby is a wooden dentist's chair from World War I, sturdy enough for a soldier but small enough to fold into a rectangular shipping box.
There's the centuries-old metal chair with body straps and nail holes at the base, to grip the floor. Dentists at the time would tie patients down, give them a swig of alcohol, grab onto a damaged tooth and yank.
Harn walks past a velvet-covered padded chair with a drill dangling from a pole. The foot-powered drill dates to 1871 and could reach up to 1,000 RPMs with vigorous pedal-pumping.
“It's hard for me to understand how they could have kept the hand piece and drill in a patient's mouth while doing that,” Harn said. “Of course, they could have an assistant do it. I've heard stories about them having the next patient in line do it.”
Harn started collecting old dental equipment about 35 years ago, when he happened upon a 500-page catalog from the Buffalo Dental Manufacturing Co. from 1905. Along the way, he's built a wealth of Nebraska dental history. One of Omaha's first dentists, for instance, was a preacher. Others were barbers.
He holds up a masticator, which looks like a spring-loaded set of tongs with metal teeth. Aristocrats who lost their teeth used the device from the 1600s to the 1850s to chew meat.
Did it work?
“Oh, yeah,” Harn said. “I've had meat with some gristle in it where I wish I had one of these things.”
Nearby are a scattering of X-ray machines, some with exposed wires that carried 60,000 volts. Beyond that, a dental cabinet modeled after a dollhouse. On another wall, a faded white sign reads “Save your teeth, and half your money.”
Such items are disappearing as time passes and collectors keep equipment for themselves, said Terry M. Wilwerding, a Creighton University dentistry professor. Wilwerding, who teaches a dental history class, said Harn's collection illustrates the vast improvements in patient comfort and safety.
“In the dental history business, he's an absolute hero,” Wilwerding said. “He has stuff stashed all over Lincoln. To find one piece of equipment at a time is remarkable. But to accumulate all that he has is unbelievable.”
The museum opening is timed to coincide with the College of Dentistry's annual Fall Football Reunion, an alumni event. Administrators show off the newest technology available to students, but many of the older alumni gravitate to the museum as a reminder of their younger days, said Dr. John Reinhardt, the college's dean.
“It's useful for our students and others to understand that we're on this path, and things are continually changing,” Reinhardt said. “They don't always realize how far we've come.”
The collection will be displayed this week in Room 1431 and adjacent hallways on the lower level of the UNMC College of Dentistry. The college is located at 40th and Holdrege streets in Lincoln.
Tuesday and Friday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturday: 8 a.m.-noon
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 09:33|