At Work With… Gerald Legg

… Gerald Legg, Keeper of Natural Sciences

Fossil Human Teeth

We get all kinds of enquiries and this one was particularly unusual. A member of the public ‘phoned saying they had hundreds of teeth embedded in stone in their garden, forming part of the foundations of their patio which was being dug-up. ‘Bring some in and we’ll look at them for you’.

Chunk of old patio base with embedded 'teeth'
Chunk of old patio base with embedded ‘teeth’

A strong carrier bag duly arrived with three large chunks of ‘rock’ in which were embedded what appeared to be human teeth – by the hundred. With a little imagination all kinds of ghoulish images could come to mind!

On close examination the teeth appeared to be very uniform and incomplete – they had no roots, but they did have a hole in them; very strange. Perhaps they were for making primitive necklaces or other jewellery; nothing so obvious. A little local history research revealed that one of the world’s largest manufacturers of artificial teeth implants had once had a factory in Brighton very close to where the enquirer lived: Dentsply.

On June 23, 1899 The Dentist’s Supply Company of New York was formally chartered by the state of New York. Secretary of State John T. McDonough signed the papers in Albany. Within a month, The Dentist’s Supply Company of New York was serving dental retail outlets and manufacturing its first product, artificial teeth.

Close up of some 'teeth'
Close up of some ‘teeth’

Called 20th Century Teeth, in honour of the coming century, these platinum pin teeth were considered revolutionary. Made of porcelain, using techniques developed and perfected by George Whitely, 20th Century Teeth had platinum pins baked into the porcelain structure to hold them in place within the dental base. This was hailed as a major improvement in the design and manufacture of teeth and dentures.

In typical dentures of that day, teeth broke off from the dental base when the pressure of chewing and biting created internal stresses. After the anchors were baked into the teeth, pins were soldered to the anchors to hold the teeth in place. The strength of 20th Century Teeth earned The Dentist’s Supply Company a reputation for high quality goods. A century later, the company founded on the strength of one product is DENTSPLY International, a company that serves the world’s dental needs.

Artificial Tooth
Artificial Tooth

In 1931, Trubyte was introduced as a revolutionary product line – ‘New Trubyte Teeth’. New Trubyte Teeth masterfully combined aesthetics with function and performance. This ‘harmony of form’ earned Trubyte a reputation for being the finest artificial teeth in the world. In this era, Trubyte was a true pioneer in its field.

Dentsply International Inc (Dentsply) was incorporated in 1969 in succession to a business previously conducted, since 1899, by The Dentists’ Supply Company of New York (DSCo). Dentsply is currently engaged primarily in the manufacture and wholesale distribution of dental supplies and equipment. The company also operates retail optical dispensaries. Dentsply has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 1960.

Dentsply Ltd (Dentsply’s only subsidiary in the United Kingdom) which was located in Brighton at the Diamond Buildings, Coombe Road, BN2 4ER (they are now in Addlestone, Surrey), and incorporated in 1910 as Excelsior Dental Manufacturing Company. Its name was changed to Dentsply Ltd in 1936 at the time of its acquisition by DSCo. Dentsply Ltd manufactures porcelain and plastic artificial teeth.

DeTrey's Diatorics
DeTrey’s Diatorics

In October 1970 Dentsply Ltd purchased from ADI the assets and business of a tooth manufacturing factory at Blackpool which ADI had purchased two years earlier from the Dental Manufacturing Company Ltd (DMCo) together with the other dental business of that company. Under the terms of the purchase agreement, Dentsply Ltd transferred production of these teeth to its Brighton factory, to both manufacture and supply them for former customers of DMCo. The overall volume of production had increased somewhat since the two manufacturing operations were consolidated in Brighton, as the following comparison between 1974 and 1969 (the last year of operations for the Blackpool factory) shows: Number of teeth produced 1969-1974:

DMCo teeth               11,237,123 (Blackpool)          15,808,743 (Brighton)

Dentsply teeth            17,853,671 (Brighton)             18,676,940 (Brighton)

Dentsply continued in Brighton until1991 when it closed with the loss of 90 jobs after improvements in dental health resulted in orders falling away

DSCo. is the world’s largest producer of artificial teeth (both porcelain and plastic) and these it manufactures in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in various other plants which it either owns or controls in Europe, Australia and South America. It claims to offer the largest variety of artificial teeth in the world, both in the number of lines and in the total of forms, sizes and shades.

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