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Birmingham Dental Hospital and Samuel Adams Parker

The nineteenth century heralded a huge increase in the availability of refined carbohydrates, especially sugar, in the nation’s diet. As a consequence, the pain and suffering of untreated dental decay became a common problem, especially among the poor. Like many Victorians, Samuel Adams Parker was a humanitarian who set out to alleviate this suffering by opening the Birmingham Dental Dispensary in 1858. Born in 1831, the son of a surgeon, he trained in London before returning to practise in Birmingham in 1856 – two years before opening the Dental Dispensary. For the next fifteen years, until his resignation in 1873, he was the only dentist on the staff, giving his services without remuneration.

The Birmingham Dental Hospital, as it became known on moving to new premises in1871, is the oldest dental hospital in the United Kingdom and possibly in the world. As its services expanded it moved to bigger premises via Newhall Street and Great Charles Street until arriving at its present site in St Mary’s Row in 1964. In cooperation with the University of Birmingham, its main function today is the education of dentists and dental specialists. All this is a far cry from the early aspirations of Samuel Adams Parker who died in 1896, a poor lonely and unhappy man but without whose vision to improve the lot of its citizens, the eminence of Birmingham as an internationally recognised centre of dental education and research would have been delayed.

Information compiled by Roger Browne, Emeritus Professor, University of Birmingham

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