Museum review National Museum of Dentistry

Its been a while since I've written one of these, so I hope I'm too out of practice.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the permanent exhibit “32Terrific Teeth” at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore is that it reminded me of Disney’s Hall of Presidents with its bright blue walls and royal blue carpets.


Than I got to look at the exhibit itself: one wall was a collection of celebrity smiles (including: Whoopi Goldberg, Will Ferrell and Barack Obama), and a few busts of cosmetic dentistry procedures from around the world such as teeth filing (practiced by the Banto tribe of Congo ), teeth blackening, knocking out of teeth and installing gold crowns ( USA ). The third wall was cartoons about humans and animals with toothaches and wall text about folk and religious lore about teeth.


There was a case of dental toys from the 1940s and a hallway tracing the evolution of teeth from mollusks to modern problem of tooth decay. The hallway ended with a large, teal colored room divided into sections on prevention, hygiene and dental assistants (first school for dental hygienists opened in 1913) and featured a kid sized mock-up of a dentist’s office. A yellow side room had capitalistic posters for toothpaste from communist Germany , and that same color continued into the adjoining (and labyrinthine) dental history gallery which included double-sided timelines, several historic chairs and equipment collections. A spiral staircase near the back of the gallery led to the exhibit’s second level.


The first thing one sees at the top of the steps is a life-sized recreation of G.V Black’s 19th century office (along with a mannequin of its owner) and nearby texts describe the move the profession’s from traveling town square dentistry to main street offices. Additional wall texts describe various pain relief methods (cloves, laughing gas, etc) and other innovations in modern American dentistry concluding with a model of a modern dental office. A short hallway leads past the George Washington Gallery (which displayed a pair of the founding father’s Ivory dentures) and the “ADA theatre” – both in the same atrocious green color from downstairs (at least the theatre was dark)


At the end of the hallway was the museum’s newest traveling exhibit: “Your Spitting Image” which was further divided into two sections: the creepily titled “Bioengineering: Making a New You” about the role of stem cells in replacing missing or damaged teeth. It also has a wall display of how people throughout history went about replacing teeth (ancient Egyptians used gold bands, one ancient Roman used an iron filling, and the process of crowning teeth which began in 1938). There was also a computer station about DNA analysis, and a small but conspicuously empty space near the gallery’s entrance.


The other was creatively enough called “Forensics: Solving Mysteries” about using forensic anthropology to identify missing persons (illustrated by a real life case study) as well as disaster victims and something about bite marks to solve crimes (which just seemed out of place). They also had wall text describing historic cases of postmortem oncology such as Paul Revere identifying a man based on his silver fillings (inserted by Revere himself).


Exiting the temporary gallery led directly onto the balcony directly over the admissions desk and museum store and eventually coming to the “spitting” part of their traveling exhibition’s name – a small room dedicated to the digestive power of saliva. Yes, it’s as exciting as it sounds, and right next door were the stairs to the lobby.


At the bottom of the steps next to the saliva room was the other special exhibit – “Open Wide: Toothy Toys that Make Us Smile.” It consisted of five relatively small cases, but seemed bigger with the three oversized comic book covers that dominated the tall walls of the atrium.


There were actually quite a few different toys in said cases, even if they were all basically variations on the same theme (toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes, toothbrush holders, etc). They had licensed products from: Snoopy, Barney the Dinosaur, Star Wars, Spongebob Squarepants and, yes, even Chuck Norris gets into the grime fighting action!


They also had a case with various dental themed games: Toothache (a clone of Operation), the Dennis the Menace Dental Play-set (1960s), and an early handheld game called Plaque Attack! (1983). Of course, America ’s favorite career hopper – Dentist Barbie – was also on hand (in both Black and Caucasian versions!).


I briefly considered a walk through their gift shop, but I had already spent 2 hours in the museum and that was more than enough.

Categories: attractions, Baltimore | Leave a comment

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