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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Civil War Dentists

The treatment of dental problems raised separate health issues. By 1860, there were about 5,500 dental practitioners in the United States. Most dentists trained by apprenticeship, but about 400 dentists had graduated from three American dental schools.

The Confederacy required that every soldier have a dental exam. The shortage of men in the South meant that no one could be exempted from service because of problems with his teeth. Dentists were routinely assigned to the larger Confederate military hospitals.

The Federal government provided no official dental surgeons for its troops during the Civil War. Toothbrushes were not provided for troops.
Many dentists served in the Union Army, but any dental treatment they performed wasn’t in an official capacity. Most dentists simply enlisted in their state regiments as privates.

Confederate dentist James Baxter Bean and Union dentist Dr. Thomas Gunning developed almost identical and revolutionary methods of treating jaw fractures caused by gunshot. Imperfect healing of these wounds could be life-threatening and earlier treatments had proven uncomfortable and ineffective. Bean and Gunning used intraoral splints to preserve the alignment of the teeth and minimize any deformity. These new techniques were major advancements in the treatment of jaw fractures.

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