A Museum to Sink Your Teeth Into

Posted: August 1, 2020 at 7:00 am

By Jonathan Shipley

Museum of Dental History room with antique dental equipment.
The Macaulay Museum of Dental History includes exhibits similar to the one above that showcase a variety of antique dental equipment. Adobe Stock photo by DBVIRAGO

There’s more than a plaque honoring dentist Neill W. Macaulay. At the Medical University of South Carolina, there is an entire museum in his honor.

The Macauley Museum of Dental History houses an impressive collection of dental memorabilia, including historical tools and instruments, a 19th-century dental office display, a collection of dental chairs, and a traveling dentist’s chest from the Civil War era.

“The collection is quite fascinating,” says Brian Fos, curator of Waring Historical Library, which oversees the museum. “The old X-ray machines look like they come out of an early science fiction movie.

“The item that is most fascinating to me is the device developed so a patient can determine how much painkiller should be used.”

The bulk of the museum’s holdings came from Macaulay.

Born in Oconee County in 1904, he graduated from the Atlanta-Southern Dental College (later Emory University) in 1926. Upon graduating, he returned to South Carolina. He practiced dentistry in Columbia for 30 years.

Macaulay was an early and active member of the South Carolina Dental Association and a member of the South Carolina Regional Education Board. He worked tirelessly for students eager to enter the dental trade. He pressed the state government to open a dental school in South Carolina, as none existed at that time. In the meantime, he placed dozens of South Carolinian dental students in schools in Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, and beyond. These students were named “Macauley Boys,” and became dentists due to Macauley’s efforts.

Dr. Neill Macaulay
Dr. Neill Macaulay practiced dentistry in Columbia for 30 years. He also spearheaded creation of the first dental school in South Carolina.

His dream for a state dental school finally came true in 1967 when the first class was admitted into what is now known as the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. Thousands of dentists have graduated from the school— still the only dental school in the state. It is now one of the preeminent dental schools in the country, with classes scoring well above the national average on the National Board Dental Examination. Only 70 seats are available at the school each year, with roughly 900 applicants applying for those seats.

The museum is filled with Macauley’s collection. It opened in 1975 and reopened in 2017 after a four-year renovation campaign.

“The museum provides context for the study of the subject, provides a common community identity, provides a sense of heritage, documents the development of the profession, and provides an understanding of the dental industry’s evolution,” Brian says.

The root of the museum is South Carolina’s rich dental history, and the crown is the museum’s dental memorabilia.

Passionate about dental practice, education, and professionalism, Macaulay died in 1983. His name lives on, cemented at the school he helped shepherd into existence.