Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden are considered the Fathers of Dental Education. Together in 1840 they were the founders of the Baltimore College of Dentistry.
Chapin Harris, first studied medicine and practiced in Greenfield, Ohio. Like many of his physician colleagues, he also performed dental extractions. His focus on dentistry shifted when his brother John invited him to join his Bainbridge school that John operated in his home. Chapin graduated from that school in 1828. He met Horace Hayden 5 years later in Baltimore.
Hayden and Harris thought to further develop dental education within an existing institution of higher education. After their request in 1837 to establish a Dental Department with a full course of training dentists as part of the University of Baltimore Medical School was denied, they successfully petitioned the Maryland legislation for an independent dental school. The rest is history.
Hayden’s and Harris’ contributions to dentistry and dental education are significant at several levels. They had the vision and leadership to organize, pursue, and establish the first dental school. Harris authored several major treatises to fill a gaping hole in the theoretical underpinning of dentist’s education. As early as 1839 he first published a textbook entitled Harris’ Dental Art: A Practical Treatise of Dental Surgery and subsequently its much-enlarged second edition, Principles and Practice of Dentistry. This book was published 13 times, with the last edition in 1896. It became the standard dental textbook for most dental schools in the U.S. during the second half of the 19th century.
As coeditor of the first scientific journal and cofounder of the first scientific dental society, he helped establish the foundation for the dental profession. These were crucial steps to enhance dentistry as a learned health profession, to help separate the quacks from the educated practitioners, dilute the unscrupulous dentist from the conscientious one and restore public confidence in the profession.
Thirtytwo years after the establishment of Baltimore College of Dental Surgery a large number of uneducated dentists still practiced in the US. A report in 1872 identified that in in the US there were “12-14,000 dentist, thousands without proper education and perhaps only 25% with knowledge or access or willingness to read textbooks or journals.”
It is important to emphasize the impact of the 1837 decision denying Hayden and Harris a chance to open a dental department within medical school had on the future of dental education and the profession at large. The independent nature of Baltimore College of Dental Surgery has created a template for other dental schools in the nation. A precedent was set by the Maryland legislature and other states followed.