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Freshman dental students from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons, class of 1909, assemble for a photo.


A year after the Ontario Dental Association officially formed to bring much needed professional standards to dentistry, founder Dr. Barnabas Day, fellow members and supporters marched to the Ontario legislature in 1868. They were there to watch as Dr. George Boulter, MPP for Hastings North, presented a proposed bill to the house that if passed, would bring desperately needed regulation to dentistry in the province. The petition had the signatures of 68 dentists, 25 physicians, a pharmacist, a judge and the mayor of Toronto. That year, An Act Respecting Dentistry passed in the Ontario legislature, bringing with it a new era of professionalism and quality of care.

Essentially, the act put control of the profession into the hands of the board of directors of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario. They had the right to self-govern and were the sole authority to grant licences to practise dentistry in Ontario. They also oversaw dental education in the province and enforced the standards required for practicing dentists. Critically, the board also had the right to hold dentists criminally liable if they remained unlicensed.

In 14 months' time, Dr. Day had organized a professional association of dentists united under a constitution, led the way in petitioning the provincial government, shepherded An Act Respecting Dentistry, and established the right for the profession to self-regulate.

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It seemed fitting that Dr. Day was elected president of the newly formed board of directors of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (RCDSO). The board continued to move dentistry forward by formulating educational requirements that stipulated only students who had completed a two-year dental apprenticeship would be allowed to take a final exam to become a dentist.

By 1875, the ODA recognized an urgent need for an official college to train these young students and that November, the Royal College of Dental Surgeons (RCDS) opened. A small, two-room school at 46 Church St. in Toronto, the RCDS started with a mere 11 students. Nonetheless, the upstart school provided free dental care to 120 patients, and was Canada's only dental college for the next 17 years. In 1925 the college changed names and is known today as the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry.

Even with the establishment of trained, regulated RCDS dentists, in 1889 many dental practitioners were still advertising in newspapers and on billboards, making dubious claims of superiority over other dentists all while charging fees that were just too low to provide proper care. In spite of their best efforts, the ODA and RCDSO struggled to stop large numbers of illegal, untrained dentists from practising in Ontario. With the image of the dental profession again tarnished, it was painfully obvious there needed to be a Code of Ethics.

Adopted in the summer of 1889, the code banned unethical and unprofessional newspaper and handbill advertisements, and set standards in advertising for dental practices. Violation of the Code of Ethics was severe and would result in being kicked out of the ODA. Most importantly, the Code of Ethics was effective. It virtually eliminated dishonest professional advertising in Ontario from that point on.

By the early 20th century, the Industrial Revolution had arrived in Ontario, bringing with it social problems and great concerns over public health. The ODA realized the public needed to be more aware of how to care for their oral hygiene. Believing that prevention was always a better solution than treatment, Dr. John Adams, the first dentist of record at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, spent much of his career treating poor children and spearheaded a movement that convinced the Ontario government to create a program for schoolchildren province-wide to inspect and repair their decaying teeth.

A major breakthrough on the public dental care front came when it was discovered that the toothpaste made during this era wasn't only made with sugar, it was actually the main ingredient! The ODA quickly developed its own sugar-free alternative to help Ontarians keep their teeth clean and healthy. The profits from all the toothpaste sold were reinvested into public education and allowed dentists to hand out oral hygiene pamphlets, provide dental health programs and continue to lobby all levels of government to introduce dental screening programs for schoolchildren.

That lobbying eventually led to the Toronto Board of Education taking responsibility for children's dental health by hiring a dental inspector. The City of Toronto also opened a dental clinic to treat local children. Within a year, the obviously positive results were apparent, with some children displaying a 54 per cent increase in their grades at school after receiving proper dental care.

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This content was produced by the Ontario Dental Association. The Globe and Mail was not involved in its creation.

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