Early Dental Licensure

Wisconsin State Dental Society tackles early dental licensure

After the birth of the WDA, known originally as the Wisconsin State Dental Society in 1870, Wisconsin experienced another period of growth. The state’s population doubled to over two million between 1870 and 1900. Dentistry continued its scientific, technological and organizational advance and became a more alluring career prospect. The first laws regulating dentistry also went into effect during this time.

The first efforts by the WSDS to encourage regulatory laws were unsuccessful, largely because the Legislature felt no pressure from the public that generally opposed most governmental regulation. Dentists themselves were also divided on this issue.

However, change was in the air and in 1884, the WSDS passed a resolution calling for the practice of dentistry to be controlled by “wise and proper legislation” similar to that in affect in other states. The society even appointed a committee of six members to serve as unofficial lobbyists.

Two years earlier, in 1882, the WSDS had tightened its admissions requirements. Potential members had to answer a list of questions created by a board of examiners with 75 percent accuracy to obtain membership. However, any person could still become a dentist in Wisconsin without joining the society.

March 23, 1885 was the landmark day for the regulation of dentistry in Wisconsin. On that date, a law that had been signed by Gov. Jeremiah Rusk went into effect. It established a state Board of Dental Examiners and gave it license-issuing authority. Dentistry applicants had two options: present a diploma to the board proving graduation from an incorporated and “reputable” dental college or take a licensing examination. It cost one dollar to obtain a license with a diploma or $10 to take the exam.

However, this law had little impact on dentists who were already practicing. A practicing dentist was automatically legitimized, needing only to swear by affidavit that he was practicing dentistry before the March date, register his name and address within six months of that date and pay an annual registration fee of one dollar.

The first Board of Dental Examiners was appointed by the governor and included the following dentists recommended by the WSDS: Drs. Charles Chittenden (Madison), B.G. Maercklein (Milwaukee), Edgar Palmer (La Crosse), J.S. Reynolds (Monroe) and E.C. French (Eau Claire).

Among the official decisions made by the board during its first meeting, was an order that all affidavits of registration filed by dentists already in practice had to be witnessed by two legally qualified physicians in the town or city in which the registrant claimed he was practicing. The board also instructed its new president, Dr. Chittenden, to prepare questions to be used in the written examinations of applicants for licenses.

As years passed, requirements were tightened. Specific educational requirements, provable dental knowledge and operative skills became basic standards. At the close of the 19th century, the dental profession in Wisconsin was fortified by regulatory legislation and on its way to becoming well organized.

*Information for this article was taken from “History of Dentistry in Wisconsin” by Frank J. Campenni.

Samples of questions from an early dentistry board licensure exam:

1. Name the different tissues composing the complete tooth and specify from which of the three original membranes each is developed.

2. Describe the manner of penetration of enamel tissue by caries.

3. Is green stain deposited through the medium of acid mucus?

4. What conditions are necessary to the formation of alveolar abcess?

5. Is serumal calculus ever deposited upon the surface of the root of a tooth (away from its neck) before a pocket has previously formed?