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Dentist Act 1921 - Protecting the public and the profession

The first legislation to regulate the dental profession was the Dentists Act in 1878. This was the result of years of campaigning by leading dentists including Sir John Tomes to restrict the practise of dentistry to qualified dentists.

The first dental qualification Licentiate in Dental Surgery (LDS) was introduced in 1860 and the first Dentists Register was compiled in 1879. The BDA was established in 1880 to uphold the Dentists Act and to represent the interests of qualified dentists. All the building blocks were in place to support a fledging profession.


Loopholes in the 1878 Dentists Act

Unfortunately, the 1878 Dentists Act had a number of loopholes. Although it restricted the use of the titles of dental surgeon and dentist, there were lots of ways to avoid these terms. Therefore, it was possible to work as a dentist with minimal or no training. It is estimated there were more unregistered practitioners than qualified dentists.

Frequently used terms to avoid prosecution

  • Teeth institute
  • Teeth consulting rooms
  • American dentistry practised here
  • Hygiene Institute
  • Dentorium
  • Painless dentistry
  • Artificial teeth 


Registered dentists were encouraged not to advertise as this was considered to bring the profession into disrepute. However, unregistered dentists could advertise their services profusely to attract patients.


In 1910 the BDA took a series of photographs in an effort to show the extent of illegal practice in the UK.