Victorian Dental Pioneer

I’ve got to say my teeth are dreadful. At the tender age of 45 most of them are gone replaced with crowns or a plate, my father lost all his when he was 28…so, it seems it’s a family thing.

But if it wasn’t for people like Sir John my mouth could be in a much worse state!

Sir John Tomes was indeed a dental Pioneer and was apprenticed in 1831 to Thomas Farley Smith who was a medical practitioner in Evesham.

He then entered the medical schools of King’s College and of the Middlesex Hospital in 1836. From 1839–40 he was became house surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital and whilst in that role he invented the tooth forceps which supplanted the old tooth key. His forceps had jaws that could accurately adapted to the forms of the necks of the various teeth.

There were in fact the first of a kind, modern forceps and for that alone he should be applauded. He then spent his working life to the betterment of dental practice and hygiene. Between 1838 and 1856 he submitted five papers to the Royal Collage of Surgeons and became a fellow of the Royal Society (a great honour) in 1850 and in 1858 he was successful in inducing the Royal College of Surgeons to grant a license in dental surgery. 

One of his other achievement was to ensure that only qualified persons could practise dentistry and that they had to be registration, so in 1878 an Act of Parliament which was passed restricting the use of the word dentist to those who suitably qualified. But he went one step further, 1880 Tomes and other leading dentists of the time formed the BDA (British Dental Association) and he was its first president.

His interest in the subject never waned and he was rewarded with a Knighthood in 1886 for ’eminent services rendered to his profession’. He resigned from the BDA and then retired to his home in Caterham, Surrey where he passed away in 1895.

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