The unparalleled leadership of American Dentistry beginning in the 1920s developed largely because of the improvement and consistent reliability of dental materials brought about by the research programs at the National Bureau of Standards from 1920s until present day. This advancement in dental science was due to the symbiotic private and public sponsorship of research programs by the cooperative research group between the American Dental Association and the National Bureau of Standards. In the oral history interview of George C. Paffenbarger, D. D. S, he explains his involvement as a researcher and leader in the dental field as well as advancements made due to the work of this research program. Dr. Paffenbarger’s own dedication to purpose and constant endeavor to enhance and expand the science of dental materials is evident in his recollections of programs and events in which he participated. The integration of government regulation in standardizing dental materials was pertinent to the forward growth of the dental field. Dr. Paffenbarger’s account is informative and perceptive, demonstrating how the emerging vision of “professionalism” in American dentistry could be accomplished through the advancements of the dental field.
The beginnings of government funded dental research begun during World War I when the Army wanted to procure dental amalgam but had no criteria. At the time the National Bureau of Standards was the chief physical laboratory to the government so the Army wrote to them requesting a standard for amalgam in order to put in a bid request in 1919. Separate manufacturers were producing dental materials but due to the lack of authoritative literature in dental materials orders for these products were based on advertised brand names not facts. The National Bureau of Standards contacted Dr. Wilmer Souder, a physicist, whose further research exposed the lack of knowledge about dental materials used in practice. Dr. Paffenbarger’s account of Dr. Souder’s involvement in the dental field demonstrates a clear responsibility in the beginnings of dental research. Even in his closing statements of the interview he stresses how Dr. Souder’s “foresight, his determination, and how his energy and scientific experience was applied to the development of this dental research program here at the National Bureau of Standards is truly phenomenal.” After basic research Dr. Souder realized there was a general lethargy of the dental profession and the dental manufacturers and the government. Paffenbarger even recounts Dr. Souder’s story of speaking to a dentist about amalgam material and the response was Well, we have to just say what the manufacturer says. We don’t have any source
of information about what we are using here. We don’t have anything equivalent to the U.S.P. on drugs. We don’t have any standards, or any criteria except just trial and error in the patient’s mouth. To do something about this, Dr. Souder wrote to the American Dental Association to see if they would be interested in establishing a research associateship, which the National Bureau of Standards had been able to do after organic law was passed by Congress. This began the relationship with the American Dental Association and National Bureau of Standards.
The importance of Dr. Souder in the emergence of the dental field is a widely accepted notion by historians. In an article written by W. T. Sweeney published by the National Bureau of Standards in 1972, the author gives a report on the most outstanding events, personnel, and accomplishments of the dental research program in honor of the 50th anniversary of the program. It is evident from the beginning in Sweeney’s article when she states, “the name of Dr. Wilmer Souder is the most outstanding of all the scientific staff because he is responsible for setting the character and ideals of the program.” Her writings parallel that of Paffenbarger as she states it was his realizing of the necessity...
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