News / Edmonton

Drilling into dental history at the University of Alberta

Excuse the dental puns, but this guy's brushing up on them.

Taylor Lambert sits among some of the stranger contraptions in the museum of the U of A's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Taylor Lambert sits among some of the stranger contraptions in the museum of the U of A's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

Few enjoy a trip to the dentist, but as one intrepid writer is discovering, Edmonton has deep roots in the dental world.

His research has found some rather unknown facts about the dental school, which opened in 1917.

Taylor Lambert is weaving together a history of the University of Alberta's school of dentistry for its centennial celebrations.

Take, for example, Harry Bulyea – the first director of the faculty.

Bulyea was one of the first orthodontic specialists in Alberta — and Lambert's research has found that he also owned the first dental X-Ray machine in the province.

Lambert, a journalist and author, was hired in the fall by the U of A to chronicle the dentistry faculty's 100-year anniversary, to be celebrated in September 2017.

Since then, his work has taken him deep into the university archives and the school of dentistry's museum, where strange dental tools from the early 20th-century fill the drawers and are flanked by eerie, early models of dental-instrument washers.

“The history of the school is very much at the core of the book – that's the primary focus," Lambert said. “But I want to tell that story in a way that keeps people engaged.”

Part of the challenge of writing the book, Lambert said, was that his exposure the world of tooth repair prior to agreeing to write the book was limited.

“My knowledge of dentistry begins and ends with my occasional trip to the dentist,” he said. “It's been a steep learning curve but I've been running up it as fast as I can.”

With a keen eye for developing characters, Lambert has found that the faculty's storied history is replete with people who played a very important role in establishing dentistry on what was at the time the frontier.

His book will highlight the importance of Edmonton creating the first school of dentistry in the province – the nearest faculties at the time in the North American west were in Denver and Portland.

“It was really weird that Edmonton should have this dental school, but it was also that much more important for this remote area,” Lambert said. “It became really important to the community.”

* This story has been modified to correct a previous error. 

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