The First Dental School in the World


A true profession is built upon a tripod: a formal organization, formal professional education, and a formal scientific literature. The United States was the leader in all three.

Excerpt from Journal of American Coll. Dentistry

Baltimore College of Dental SurgeryMore specifically, Maryland was the leader of all three.  The need for a dental school arose from several factors; many dentists were incompetent, learning only through apprenticeship, and the need for research in the field.  On February 1, 1840, Maryland legislatures passed a bill that would create the world’s first dental school: The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery.  This bill chartered the school and had rules for its organization.  The bill specified that the college run under state standards, regulated by a Board of Visitors.  Additionally, the Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree was officially created as a way to certify graduates of the school.  The most interesting feature about being awarded a degree was that the student’s lecture attendance record be perfect. 

Since its founding, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery has continued an expansive journey.  In addition to education, the college has strong interests in research, currently receiving money from NIH and private grants.   The college is now the home of the National Museum of Dentistry, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute.

SOURCE: Ring, M.E. “Founders of a profession: the original subscribers to the first dental journal in the world.” J Am Coll Dent.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12.

Era 4- Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

Standard 4: The sources and character of cultural, religious, and social reform movements in the antebellum period.

Standard 4B: The student understands how Americans strived to reform society and create a distinct culture.
7-12: Assess how the Second Great Awakening impinged on antebellum issues such as public education, temperance, women's suffrage, abolition, and commercialization.

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: The act that established the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery
    SOURCE: Maryland State Archives Online: Session Laws 1839

  2. DESCRIPTION: The act that made Baltimore College of Dental Surgery part of the University of Maryland System.
    SOURCE:   Maryland State Archives Online: Session Laws 1924

  3. DESCRIPTION: This act passed by the MGA allowed the school to acquire land and sell stock
    SOURCE: Maryland State Archives Online: Session Laws 1892

  4. DESCRIPTION: The charter granted for the college was made perpetual
    SOURCE: Maryland State Archives Online: Session Laws 1870

  5. DESCRIPTION: The requirements for receiving a degree in dentistry
    SOURCE: Maryland State Archives Online: Session Laws 1839

  6. DESCRIPTION: The founders and basic structure of the college
    SOURCE:   Maryland State Archives Online: Session Laws 1839

  7. DESCRIPTION: The college expands its property
    SOURCE: Maryland State Archives Online: Session Laws 1890

  8. DESCRIPTION: Committee on House Administration: Recognizing the Dr. Samuel D Harris National Museum of Dentistry as the Official National Museum of Dentistry
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:   October 30, 2003
    REPOSITORY: Committee on House Administration

  9. DESCRIPTION: An early photograph of the school
    REPOSITORY: Maryland Historical Society

  10. DESCRIPTION: Congressional resolution to make the museum at
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:   January 7, 2003
    REPOSITORY: The Library of Congress: Thomas

SEE ALSO: For additional primary sources, see the historical collections of the University of Maryland Health Sciences LibraryDental

Additional Media Resources

Information on the Founders of the School:

Secondary Resources

Seccombe, Wallace. “Survey of the Dental Curriculum.” The Journal of Higher Education

Dummett, Clifton O. “The Negro in Dental Education: A review of Important Occurrences.” The Phylon Quarterly

Callcott, George. A History of the University of Maryland. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1966.

Unknown. "Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. First Dental School in the World. Established 1839..." Dent Radiogr Photogr

Ring, M.E. “Founders of a profession: the original subscribers to the first dental journal in the world.” J Am Coll Dent.

Foley, G.P.. "The Granting of Honorary D.D.S. degrees by the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery." Bulletin of the History of Dentistry

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

The Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry
31 South Greene Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201-1504


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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Benjamin Elgamil.


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