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Friday August 22, 2014
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Hidden Museum

 

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The museum has become even more active over the past two years. In 2011, U-M permitted the museum to hang lamppost banners outside the dental school (a change that dental school communications director Sharon Grayden calls a "godsend" for increased traffic). The same year, the museum hired a collections coordinator, freeing O'Dell up to improve the museum's exhibits with more modern, interpretive content. An older display of toothbrushes in a hall adjacent to the main atrium is certainly fascinating; the advertisement for one brush proclaims that it's "cleaner and stronger than animal bristle." But it pales in comparison to recently installed exhibits on dental hygiene and female dentists, which feature attractive, high-quality signage that tells a story about the exhibited artifacts.

The items on display represent only about six percent of the museum's formidable collection of over 18,000 artifacts, most of which are stored on-site. The collection includes dental chairs, toothpaste and tooth powder containers, a bevy of dental tools, and more, with artifacts dating as far back as 1850. Asked if the collection has a "crown jewel," O'Dell points out an early X-ray unit created by U-M alum William Thwaites around 1922. The wood-paneled, cylindrical machine was touted for its safety because it enclosed the live wires that were often exposed on early X-ray devices. Patients pressed their faces to an aperture on the machine to have an image taken. However, Thwaites got nose cancer from overusing his own machine and was arrested for malpractice after claiming to treat patients' skin lesions with it. "In the picture of him at the police station, he's sixty-three years old," O'Dell says. "You can see there are wires coming around his face and one over his head, and you can see it must be holding a prosthetic nose."

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