Dr. Anne Dale smiling and standing in a room cluttered with objects
Dentistry Museum curator Dr. Anne Dale. All photos by Nick Iwanyshyn

Meet Anne Dale, Dentistry’s Unofficial Historian

The museum she curates at the Faculty of Dentistry holds thousands of objects that tell the story of the profession in Canada

The Faculty of Dentistry Museum on the second floor of the Edward Street building overflows with artifacts. Vintage portraits, old dental instruments, war medals and more fill every inch of wall, surface and floor space. Dr. Anne Dale (DDS 1958), the museum’s longtime curator, has devoted countless hours to this ever-growing collection, which tells the history of dentistry in North America. On a monthly basis, she changes the display in the window that faces the second-floor hallway. Although she retired as a professor in the Faculty of Dentistry nearly two decades ago, she still comes in frequently and also works at home, writing descriptions of items in the collection. “I’ve spent my life doing this, and I’d do it again because I love dentistry,” says Dale. Since it was founded in 1869, the museum has moved homes within the faculty and had various curators until responsibility for it fell to Dale’s husband, Jack Dale (DDS 1958), in 1964. A decade later, when Jack began to travel extensively, Anne took over much of the work. She kept taking care of the museum, even after Jack’s death in 2016, and has no plans to stop. “It’s our memory as a profession,” she says.

Wood carving of the patron saint of dentistry
A wood carving of Saint Apollonia, by Quebec sculptor Robert Roy, pays tribute to a virgin martyr in third-century Egypt who was tortured during a local uprising against Christians. Because she had her teeth violently pulled, she is considered the patron saint of dentistry.
Students spent many hours in dental school learning to make dentures. The museum has hundreds of examples, including this spring-loaded pair of “dancing dentures” that could easily pop out of the mouth by mistake.
This skull was used for research by Ashley Lindsay (DDS 1907), who set up the first dental clinic in Chengdu, China, and helped found that country’s first dental school. His legacy in China, where he stayed for 43 years, is similar to esteemed Canadian doctor Norman Bethune’s.
A mural depicting the history of dentistry in Canada
Artist William Lytle painted this mural depicting the history of dental science and service in Canada when the faculty moved to its current location on Edward Street in 1959.
In 1874, the seven students whom Dr. J.B. Willmott tutored at his own Ontario Dental College gave him this swagger cane with a gold crown, engraved with each of their names.
Dr. J.B. Willmott was the first dean of the School of Dentistry, which affiliated with U of T in 1888. His desk (almost obscured) contains a secret drawer where he hid gold that he’d hammer flat and roll into sheets for fillings.
Horace Wells was an American dentist who pioneered the use of laughing gas to reduce patients’ pain during tooth extractions. The museum holds one of three copies of a mask of his likeness.
Dale calls Horace Wells’ discovery of anesthetics “dentistry’s greatest contribution to humanity.” This carving by sculptor Jean Julien Bourgault vividly recalls how painful it once was to have a tooth removed.
Before toothpaste, tooth powders came in small bottles. You’d add a little water to the powder to create your own paste.
How a student lab on dentures would have been set up, circa 1930s.
In the 1800s, the dentist came to you. This top-of-the-line case, containing some 120 instruments, was designed mostly to impress well-to-do patients. “Not all instruments were even used,” says Dale.
Jacobus Marius van Baarsal, a dentistry student who served during the Second World War, was taken prisoner and sent to Sumatra. To help the men there suffering from dental pain, he melted down nickels for fillings and made his own instruments from telegraph wires, railway spikes and cookie tins – “any old scrap metal he could find,” says Dale.

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  1. 8 Responses to “ Meet Anne Dale, Dentistry’s Unofficial Historian ”

  2. Aaron Fenton says:

    Congrats to Dr. Dale on recognizing the advances in dental care.

  3. Jill Robson Maxwell says:

    I would enjoy talking to Dr. Dale. My father, James Robson, graduated from U of T dentistry in 1928. I have a few dental tools with his red and green colours on them, and his graduation yearbook. I would love to tour the dental museum.

  4. Murray Skan says:

    Many years ago as a new dental sales rep, a retiring dentist gave me his modelling kit from when he was a student in the 1930s, as well as a denture vulcanizer and a vulcanized denture. I donated these to this museum. Congratulations to Dr. Dale for caring about dentistry's past.

  5. Stella Waddington says:

    How wonderful! I'm a history grad from U of T, and have always fascinated by the dentistry building; I knew there was rich history there to be unfolded. U of T Dentistry has led the way in many dental innovations and discoveries. I'm so glad Dr. Dale is preserving the faculty's rich past.

  6. Dr. Farel H. Anderson B.S.A.,D.D.S.,FADI says:

    Dr. Anne Dale taught me histology in the early 1960s in dental school. She soon became the heart and soul, indeed, the embodiment of curatorial decisions made at the Faculty of Dentistry museum. Her historical knowledge of the profession is unsurpassed. The profession owes her a great debt of gratitude.

  7. Elizabeth Zukorsky says:

    This is fascinating! Would it be possible to take a tour (probably next year)? Would you consider being part of Doors Open Toronto?

  8. Mandeep Sood says:

    I was a student at the faculty and would admire the collection of the museum before entering the dental library. Now I've got a handle on the interesting objects displayed there. Thanks, Dr. Dale.

  9. Brian Clarke says:

    Anne Dale has always been a great supporter of the dental school. She and her husband Jack Dale and Dr. Joe Bielawski were instrumental to encouraging so many students' love and passion for dentistry. The three of them were amazing.