Monday, August 18, 2014

Dentistry during the Civil War


About two decades before the Civil War, the dental profession had gained some standing. In the Confederate states there were about 500 Dentist. Jefferson Davis had always been an advocate for a dentistry corps. As Secretary of State under President Pierce, he had called for such a Corps but never was one in U.S. Army.

After outbreak of War, the Confederate Army established a Dental program. The Union Army rejected one. Confederate Surgeon General Moore as well as Jefferson Davis was supportive of the idea of Army dentists. The dentists stated they owed more to Moore "than to any man of modern times".

Soldiers tended to neglect basic care of their teeth. Toothbrushes were scare and they had inadequate diets. Dental operations were very expensive for the common soldier. A soldier's teeth were important on the battlefield. Many recruits were turned down if they lacked six opposing upper and lower front teeth. These were considered necessary to bite off the end of the powder cartridges used with the muzzle loading rifles of the time.

Many Dentists were accorded the rank of hospital stewart. Though some could be full surgeons. Medical Director, William a. Carrington, CSA, commented that dentists "plugged, cleaned, and extracted teeth", in addition to "adjusting fractures of the jaw and operating on the mouth". A Richmond Dentist, Dr. W. Leigh Burton, commented that his days were filled of "twenty to thirty filings, the preparation of cavaties included, the extraction of 15 or 20 teeth, and the removal of tartar ad libitum".

Dentist, Dr. James B. Bean who was from Atlanta, Georgia made significant contributions to the treatment of fractured maxillary bones. Bean invented an interdental splint made of vulcanized rubber that had cup shaped indentations for teeth. His splint was a great success and he was sent to Richmond where his sprint was used for treatment at the Recieving and Way Hospital.

The Confederacy should be praised for it's Dental Corps. In Jan., 1864 the Confederacy began conscripting dentist. This gave the Confederate soldier a small advantage over the Union soldier, as all attempts at the Union Dentistry Corps was turned down.

Dr. W. Leigh Burton (1830-1892) was a Captain in Confederate Army, dentist and inventor. He was first with Quartermaster Dept. at Fredericksburg. In 1864, he worked at Richmond Hospitals as dentist. After the war, he continued working as a dentist and invented the Burton Electric Heater. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

Dr James Baxter Bean (1834-1870) was the most important dental surgeon of the Civil War. After the outbreak of the war, Bean moved to Atlanta where he offered his services to the Confederate medical authorities. His dental device, the "Bean Splint" allowed him to treat successfully over one hundred cases of gunshot wounds to the jaw and face while preventing the facial disfigurement and deformity that frequently resulted from such wounds. In Jan, 1865 the Confederate Medical Board in Richmond, unanimously recommended adoption of the Bean splint. Dr. Bean then supervised Richmond surgeons in the use of his device.

After the war he went to Baltimore. He pioneered in the use of aluminum for dental plates. He took out a patent in 1867. His experiments weren't successful, but his casting was an important step in the development of the casting process in dentistry.

Bean died in 1870 when he and 10 others were caught in blizzard on the summit of Mont Blanc. His notebooks were later recovered from the summit. Mark Twain included extracts from the notebook in his book, "A Tramp Abroad".


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