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Was your ancestor a dentist?

The museum can help you trace your dentist ancestors. Our main source of information are the Dentists Registers. These annual volumes were started in 1879 and continue today. They record the name, address and qualification of every dentist working in the UK. Today the register is compiled by the General Dental Council.  

Brief history

​The Dentists Register was started in 1879 as a result of the Dentists Act of 1878.


This was the first legislation which aimed to restrict who could provide dental treatment and advice. In order to register a dentist had to be qualified. The LDS RCS Eng (Licence in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of England) was the first professional dental qualification in the UK. It was first awarded in 1860.


From 1878 the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland all issued their own LDS. In order to take the LDS examination a dentist had to undertake several years’ mechanical training (e.g. making dentures) and a period of study in a dental school alongside clinical practice in a dental hospital or dental department. Before the introduction of dental schools and qualifications most practitioners learnt their skills through apprenticeship. 


Initially when the Dentists Register started dentists could register without a qualification if they could prove they had been working in dentistry for five years prior to 1878. Some of them had combined their dentistry with medicine, surgery or pharmacy. All new entrants to the register after 1879 had to be qualified. Only dentists listed in the dentists register could use the title of ‘surgeon dentist’ or ‘dental surgeon’.​

Unregistered "dentist", possibly Dundee, 1910


This left a loophole in the law. People could practise dentistry providing they avoided the protected terms. They could use signs like ‘dental rooms’ or ‘dental treatment here’. This does not imply however, that all unregistered practitioners were charlatans. Many skilled practitioners did not see the need to register. Between 1878 and 1921 the number of unregistered practitioners was larger than the numbers of registered dentists.


In 1921 a further Dentists Act tightened up this loophole so that only qualified dentists could practise dentistry. However again they let those who could prove they had been working (unregistered) in dentistry pre-1921 continue without a qualification, as long as they registered. The last unqualified dentist stopped working in the 1970s.



What can you tell me about my ancestor?

If your relative appears in the Dentists Register we will be able to tell you the following information:


  • first and last date of registration 
  • their qualification and from which institution it was obtained 
  • all addresses at which he/she was registered (home or practice address) and the dates they changed

We will also search for obituaries or other articles in the dental press. Prior to 1879 there are very few records available as apprenticeship records are often scattered and held by local history libraries or county records offices.


Most genealogical research is carried out by our team of volunteers and we request a small donation to support the work of the museum.


If you would like us to research a dentist please email the museum providing their full name, birth and death dates (if known, if not the rough dates they lived or worked) and the area of the country you think they lived or worked in.


Please allow at least 30 days for a response to your enquiry.

Finding T H Madden

Mr Barry asked us if we could find any details about his grandfather:

"I contacted the museum asking for information about my grandfather Thomas Herbert Madden (1887-1968). I knew he was born in Bridlington and in the 1911 census he was working as a dental mechanic. 

"Thanks to the museum volunteers, I learnt that he first appeared on the Dentist Register in 1922 as a result of the Dentist Act which required everyone to be registered. 

"He did not hold a formal qualification but with evidence of 5 years of continuous practice in dentistry he was included on the register with his qualification listed as Dentist 1921 at the address of 78 New Hey Road, Lindley, Huddersfield. 

"My grandfather joined the NHS in 1948 and worked with A B Shields (LDS RCS Glasgow 1924) at a school dental clinic on Ramsden Road, Huddersfield, and maintained a private practice at 79 New Hey Road, Lindley, Huddersfield as a single handed dentist. 

"The museum was delighted that I was able to share this photo of him in his surgery. Thanks to their help we were able to get an idea of the date of the photo too".  

Mr Barry


  T H Madden in his dental surgery c1950s



Was your ancestor a dentist? 


Information for genealogists