150 Year History of the Massachusetts Dental Society

Massachusetts Dental Society Brief History - Boston Dental

Over the last 150 years, the Massachusetts Dental Society has grown from being merely a small group of dentists in Boston to an organization comprised of 5,000. Its mission is to improve the oral health of the public and to promote the professional development of its membership.

A number of developments starting in the late 1700s allowed for more advanced dental care. Mineral teeth were introduced in Paris in 1774. These allowed for the first artificial replacements that were acceptable.

In 1844, Charles Goodyear vulcanized rubber. The rubber could be used as a proper base for dentures. Samuel Stockton, a jeweler, began to manufacture porcelain teeth on a large scale. One of his nephews, Samuel Stockton White, built a business that became the most productive dental supply house in the world. He also practiced dentistry.

White opened a set of branch offices that included one in Boston. Over time, a small group of dentists started to meet here to learn from each other and develop friendships. In 1864, the members voted to start an organization called the Massachusetts Dental Association.

The members eventually voted to adopt a constitution and bylaws. The constitution and bylaws gave the requirements to join the association. Later in that year, the members voted to incorporate. In 1865, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded them a charter to incorporate as the Massachusetts Dental Society.

The First Annual Meeting was attended by 27 members. At that meeting, Nathan Cooley Keep was elected as the first president of the Society. Keep set up an agenda that would raise the standard of professional education for dentists.

Keep felt that dentistry requires a general acquaintance with medical science. As a result of this, he undertook lectures at Harvard Medical School and graduated with a degree in medicine. He advocated for a chair in dentistry at the medical school.

A number of MDS members disagreed that professors needed to be medical school graduates. They voted to set up a second school. As a result, the Boston Dental College came into being. It awarded a DDS degree.

Introduction of Technologies

Electricity was introduced to Boston in 1871. This allowed for the development of improved dental technologies. In 1881, the patents on dental vulcanite expired. This led to the development of the first commercial dental laboratory in the United States.

With the introduction of a lot of new technical knowledge and an increase in new dental students graduating, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed a Dental Practice Act. All people coming into the profession would need to pass a professional examination.

In this period of expansion, the MDS strove to become more efficient. It divided into seven districts. In 1913, the MDS became a member of the National Dental Association. This organization would eventually become the American Dental Association in 1922.

As time went on, the MDS became a real force. The society and its members would end up playing important roles in the development of the field of dentistry in the United States.

The Twentieth Century

In 1945, two cities became the first locations where water supplies would be fluoridated. In 1950, the ADA recommended this as a public health measure. The MDS backed this policy and has continued to advocate for fluoridation throughout the Commonwealth.

The MDS also promoted an antismoking campaign.

In 1948, President Truman signed legislation establishing the National Institute of Dental Research. This allowed researchers to receive federal funding.

The Importance of MDS Presidents

Over time, the science of dental medicine grew into something very great. This was especially the case at the School of Graduate Dentistry at Boston University. Many specializations became prominent at this school, such as periodontics and endodontics. One of Boston University’s famous dentists was Dr. Herbert Schilder. He would eventually become president of the MDS in 1981. With his attention and expertise, Boston became the world’s center for endodontic and periodontal education and therapy.

In 1964, 100 years after the inception of the MDS, John W. Hein, DMD, became the president. He served for three years as dean of Tufts Unversity’s School of Dental Medicine. He was very important in the establishment of an expanded-duty hygienist program that had hygienists cutting and restoring hard tissue. Regulatory agencies did not allow this program to go for long, however.

Dr. Hein also was instrumental in developing a program in Kuwait. This program was a preventative and restorative dental program for Kuwait’s children. Even after 30 years have passed, it still gives care to hundreds of thousands of Kuwaiti children.

In 1969, Dr. Walter C. Guralnick became president of the MDS. He was responsible for important changes and the elevation of the profession’s hospital status. In 1966, he recognized that an insurance program was necessary to increase access to dental care. Together with other MDS partners, he sought legislative approval for the setting up of the Massachusetts Dental Service Corporation. 10 years later, it became Delta Dental of Massachusetts.

Dr. Guralnick was also responsible for other important things as well. He established an MDDMD program in the early 70s for promising oral surgeons.

When Chester W. Douglass was Harvard’s director of dental care administration, Guralnick suggested that he be installed as a member of the board of the DSC. Also, Guralnick suggested that Robert Shira, a retired army general, would be a fine candidate for the deanship of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. This appointment was a success, and Shira served there until 1979 in that capacity. Dr. Shira also became a president of the ADA.

Robert Faiella was an individual who held both offices of MDS president and president of the ADA. He made many contributions to both organizations.

Dr. Alan DerKazarian is another past MDS president. He currently is spearheading MDS efforts to increase access to care in Massachusetts.

Member Services

The MDS has stayed in line with its mission over the years. It has enhanced the professional development of its membership through programs dedicated to education, advocacy, and promotion of the highest professional standards. The following are three important initiatives that the MDS has played a key role in:

Yankee Dental Congress

In the early 1970s, MDS secretary William McKenna pressed for a centralized meeting between the dental societies of all of the New England States. Until then, each had its own dental meeting. In 1976, the Yankee Dental Congress materialized. Thousands of dental professionals were to attend this meeting. McKenna passed on in 2007.

Eastern Dentists Insurance Company

In 1990, the dentists of Massachusetts were under siege with the cost of rising malpractice insurance. MDS Executive Director Matthew Boylan recognized that the rates offered by commercial carriers were far too high. Boylan had the idea that the MDS could set up its own insurance company.

The new company, called the Eastern Dentists Insurance Company, was incorporated in 1992.


In the late 1980s, the complexities of the insurance market created the need for the MDS to provide comprehensive health insurance services for its members and their families. Massachusetts Dental Society Insurance Services was established in 1998.

MDSIS started out very small but has grown to cover 1,500 MDS dental offices.

The MDS and New Trends in Dentistry

There has been a demographic shift in dentistry. There are more and more women who are entering the field all the time. Nearly 50 percent of newly graduated dentists are women. In 1991, Geraldine Morrow became the first woman president of the ADA.

In 2009, Kathleen O’Loughlin was selected to become Executive Director of the ADA. She had also been the first woman CEO of Delta Dental of Massachusetts. Under her leadership, the company grew in revenue and membership.

At the state level, women started to become more prominent in the MDS too. In 2007, Andrea Richman became the first woman to become elected as MDS president. In 2012, Paula Friedman became the second female president of the MDS.

There has also been minority involvement in the MDS. An MDS member, Aidee Herman, served as president of the National Hispanic Dental Association and founded the Massachusetts chapter.

This short history of the Massachusetts Dental Society has only touched the tip of the iceberg with respect to the details involved. The accomplishments of the individuals named in this article have been somewhat simplified for presentation. These hard workers for the cause accomplished much more than what was listed here.

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