Denture discoveries

Denture Discoveries explores the history of denture production through a series of sketches, paintings and relics that span four centuries. The artwork was designed by undergraduate dental student Mollie Hammond and the exhibition was curated by Dr Upen Patel and Dr Melissa Grant.

The installation begins with a display dedicated to the 1790-1860 timeframe, delving into the use of natural materials such as bone and human teeth. Within this display, both complete and partial dentures carved from bone can be observed, these dentures would have been hand carved to fit each patients unique anatomy. To explore this, a watercolour drawing of a lower partial denture and an acrylic painting of a complete lower denture were created. Both pieces highlight the beauty of the patterns carved into the bone, to resemble the natural tooth morphology. Similarly, a complete upper denture fabricated from bone and human teeth was also captured in watercolour pencil.  A denture like this would have been fabricated by carving the base from bone to fit the residual arch, then human or artificial tube teeth were secured to the base by metal pins.  As time progressed, metals and lead displaced these organic materials with the aim of becoming more functional, as a result many were suspended between springs to facilitate chewing and speech. A similar denture was worn by George Washington, the first President of the United States, meanwhile the denture within this collection has been illustrated in a Polychromos coloured pencil sketch.

The following display revolves around denture production within the 1920’s. During this time, the Birmingham Dental Hospital was based in Great Charles Street. To touch on this we surrounded the artwork with original samples of patient registration and prescription forms. Furthermore, the gorgeous architecture of the Great Charles Street Dental Hospital can be seen in the graphite sketch within the display. Dentures produced within this era would have been made of artificial man-made materials such as metals, porcelain and vulcanite. Vulcanite is a rubber-based material that was coloured pink in order to improve aesthetics and its flexibility improved denture comfort. Porcelain teeth would have then been invested in this material to make the denture functional. A vulcanite denture was captured within an acrylic painting in the base of a glass ramekin. This was chosen to touch on denture storage, as dentures are typically placed in a glass of water overnight. During this time, denture fabrication began to also combine vulcanite and metal to create strong, aesthetic dentures. This can be visualised in a Polychromos coloured pencil piece.

The final display revolves around denture fabrication in the 21st century, the current Birmingham Dental Hospital opened in 2016 and produces acrylic and metal-based dentures for patients throughout the West Midlands. Patients that are edentulous are prescribed acrylic dentures, as they are solely supported by the soft tissues. Whereas partially dentate patients can be prescribed either acrylic or metal-based dentures. Within this display, Polychromos coloured pencils and acrylic paints have captured a variety of partial dentures fabricated in Birmingham.