Dr. Albert L. Midgely

Inducted: 1970
Born: 1878
Died: 1967

Dr. Albert L. Midgely, a prominent Rhode Island oral surgeon and a pioneer in dental education, was one of the founders of the American College of Dentists on August. 22 1920, at the Copley Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. His name is inscribed on the ceremonial mace to commemorate the founders, and he was elected its first president. He defined the mission of the American College of Dentists as advancing the excellence, ethics, professionalism, and leadership in dentistry. “The College must symbolize the ideals that have made our profession great. The College should be a catalyst, stabilizer, and resource to which the professional can turn for guidance in ethics, philosophy, or principles. The American College of Dentists has many functions, but its basic mission is to provide leadership for its members,” Dr. Midgley wrote in his acceptance speech.

Among his early projects:

  • Advocated careers in dental research and integration of research in dental school curricula.
  • Formed the Commission on Journalism, which moved dental journalism to a professional level and created a base for communication among all levels of dentistry.
  • Supported efforts to recruit men and women to dental careers.
  • Adopted a resolution supporting the creation of a National Dental Screening Examining Board.

Later, he served as Chairman of the Committee on Dental Research. Recognizing the need for educational reform in dentistry, Dr. Midgely became a pioneer in dental education and helped establish dental clinics for children and the disadvantaged.

Dentistry is one of the oldest medical professions, dating back to 7,000 B.C. However, it wasn’t until 1840 that the first dental College opened in the United States, the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. When Dr. Midgely came on the scene, we were not too far removed from blacksmiths and barbers performing tooth extractions. These so-called dentists used pliers to extract teeth from the mouths of anyone complaining of toothaches. Dr. Midgley instituted much-needed national standards of excellence in the profession. Only about 7% of Americans brushed their teeth daily when he opened his dental practice. During WWI, most recruits had such poor oral hygiene that the military listed dental disease as a national crisis.

Dr. Midgely sounded a bell about cleanliness in the dentist’s office, warning a dentist should never place his hands in a patient’s mouth without following rules of cleanliness and asepsis. “We are no more justified in pursuing such a lax technique than would be a surgeon in following a like practice in an abdominal operation. If a dentist fails to obey those laws of cleanliness, the patient loses that sense of security and safety from infection. We realize that it is one thing to talk about surgical cleanliness and another thing to practice it. We should remember that following rigid practical cleanliness is never impossible,” Midgely wrote in 1915. He also wrote a report for the Dental Educational Council of America that blazed the trail that dentistry must follow to raise the professional standing of the profession. “Better health service can be rendered to the public by a close cooperation between dentistry and general medicine and by a thorough revision of the dental schools and colleges curriculums,” he wrote.

His report emphasized that dentists are not responsible to themselves alone for the conduct and standards of their profession. It urged the development of better teachers for the instruction of dental research in universities through effective cooperation between medical and dental teachers and between practicing physicians and dentists. He called for a thorough revision of the curriculums of dental schools and colleges. His push for technology cleared the air of many doubts and misunderstandings, giving the dentist an accurate understanding of the facts concerning dental education of the present day. He was given the responsibility by the American College of Dentists to evaluate the dental schools in the country. He divided them into three classes, “A,” “B,” and “C.” When Dr. Midgely spoke about new or revised courses, the schools listened.

Dr. Midgely was instrumental in setting training standards for dental assistants. They were initially hired as clerks, making appointments, or handing the dentist tools during procedures. In a report to the American College of Dentists, Dr. Midgely wrote: “The dental assistant not only assists in the operative technique but is responsible for the harmonious running of the office.” He developed the training methods for dental assistants used by the early training schools for dental hygienists.

Many dental care services were for adults only in the early 1900s. Childcare was given little or no attention until Dr. Midgely helped establish free dental clinics for low-income families in Rhode Island. His ideas went national, with many states establishing free dental clinics for the poor.

Dr. Midgley was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1878. He graduated from Classical High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1897. After attending Brown University, he graduated from Harvard Dental School in 1901. He instructed future residents for fourteen years at Harvard Dental School. In addition to lecturing at various dental clinics in Boston and Providence, he spoke at dental societies from Atlanta to the Middle West.

Dr. Midgley served on the Rhode Island Board of Dental Examiners for thirty-five years and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Marquette University in 1922. He was honored as Rhode Island Dentist of the Century in 1959. The Rhode Island General Assembly officially memorialized him when he died on March 12, 1967.

Dr. Albert L. Midgely was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1970.

For additional reading:
• Dr. Albert L. Midgely, Rhode Island Dentist of the Year, The Congressional Record-Senate, March 12, 1968.

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