Dentistry, more so than most medical professions, tends to be a male-dominated industry. As such, the pioneers of dental technology have also been male, at least for the most part. There are however, a few notable female inventors who added to the variety of techniques and technologies practiced in dentistry, both past and present. Here are just a few of these extraordinary women.
Sister Tabitha Babbitt
The earliest known female inventor of dental technology was Sister Tabitha Babbitt. She was a Shaker-Sister known primarily for her other inventions like the circular saw. However, some claim Babbitt as the pioneer of a new technique for creating false teeth.
Unfortunately, because of the Shakers’ aversion to filing patents, little documentation remains to explain exactly how these false teeth were unique. Babbitt’s example however, still remains. Her efforts to improve health care techniques and technology shows women inventors made pivotal contributions to the field.
Mary Ann Boughton
Unlike Tabitha Babbitt, Mary Ann Boughton did patent her creation, which scientists described as a way to better form air chambers in dental plates. Boughton found a problem in the way dentists of her time created air chambers to ensure the proper fit of artificial teeth. She specifically thought using plaster of paris to judge and measure the location of the air chamber was not only time consuming, but also inaccurate.
Boughton’s solution was both simple and inexpensive. In 1871, she patented the idea of using a piece of wax to measure the contours of the mouth at the precise location necessary for the air chambers. The rise of modern technological solutions to make artificial teeth more bearable rendered Boughton’s idea moot. However, her invention was an intuitive way to improve the situation of dentistry for her time.
As a 19th century dental practitioner, Elizabeth Morey practiced dentistry alongside her husband both as an assistant and as a doctor. Morey created what she called a “skeleton tooth,” and what practitioners today call a dental cap or crown. Instead of pulling out or otherwise modifying teeth of uneven lengths, Morey would create a hollow artificial tooth to fit over the damaged tooth.
Although this idea may seem intuitive, it was incredibly progressive for her time. Morey wanted to save teeth instead of destroy them as opposed to pulling out or crushing teeth with brute force to solve other problems. So she used other means whenever possible to avoid tooth extractions, a philosophy adopted by many modern dentists of today.
Marion Donovan is an inventor known for improving many everyday household items, like the unfailingly useful disposable diaper. Listed among her inventions is DentaLoop. Like the name suggests, this floss is manufactured and sold in loops. The two-ply dental floss is like any other, but the loop shape means users no longer need to wrap the floss around their finger to use. Though it seems a minor thing, this invention proves especially useful for dental patients who have dexterity problems.
The Cosmetic and Dental Implant Center is proud to honor these lesser known female inventors of dental history during Women’s History Month.