For the 19th-century
dentist, the profession consisted of "filling teeth, extractions and restorations by mechanical means," according to Eli Long, a member of the UB dental school faculty for its first 50 years. One or two books, he contended, would cover the field of practice.
Still, there was to be tremendous growth in the profession. By the end of the century, 70 dental schools had sprung up across the U.S. and Canada. Some flourished and remain today; others folded in the competition. The UB dental school was established during this time, but not without a struggle.
In 1868, state lawmakers passed a measure requiring the formation of dental societies at both state and district levels. Four years earlier, the city's dentists had formed their own civic dental association, the Buffalo Dental Association (BDA). The newly formed Eighth District Dental Society and the BDA both formally urged the formation of a Buffalo dental college.
Despite the efforts of these two groups, however, the plans failed to materialize. Although the university was eager to supplement its single and still-young medical department with a natural ally, it was perhaps too early to do so. Twenty-five years later, speaking as first dean of the dental school, William Barrett would attribute the withering of early designs to "lack of funds, want of harmony, and the absence of proper accommodations in the university's building."
Barrett was the only surviving member of the 1868 committee when, in the early 1890s, the proposal to establish a university dental program found a more receptive audience. This time, the university was both inclined and-with the opening of its new medical building-able to incorporate a new, related department. But there were loud dissenting voices in the professional community, in particular, that of Charles Stainton, who feared an oversupply of "cheap and nasty practitioners."
Despite the efforts of the group deemed "obstructionists," the UB council in May, 1892, voted to bring the new department to life with Barrett as its leader. The following September, 46 students gathered in a wing of the medical building to begin their three-year course. Four years later, more than 200 students gathered in the two-story amphitheater in the new dental college building on Goodrich Street.
In the second year alone, 6,041 patients were treated at the dental infirmary. It was too soon to gauge the accuracy of Stainton's oversupply predictions, but there was a clear demand for a school and for a free, reliable service.