Dental Hygiene Began Here
The concept of professional dental hygiene care was developed in the early part of the twentieth century. The term “dental hygiene” itself is attributed to Dr. Alfred Civilion Fones, a major creative force in the dental hygiene movement, and the founder of the Fones School of Dental Hygiene at the University of Bridgeport.
The first dental hygiene school in the world, the Fones School proudly bears his name.
Alfred Civilion Fones was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1869. His father was a practicing dentist and the first Dental Commissioner for the City of Bridgeport. Dr. Alfred Fones graduated from the New York College of Dentistry in 1890.
After practicing dentistry for about five years, Dr. Fones became convinced of the importance of prevention of oral disease. The ideas of dental hygiene and disease prevention were almost unknown in a field where extractions were frequent treatments for dental problems. Dr. Fones adopted the use of an “auxiliary” in his practice. Irene Newman, Dr. Fones’s cousin and chairside assistant, agreed to learn to clean teeth under his guidance.
As teaching aids, Dr. Fones used the plentiful extracted teeth from his practice. He mounted them in modeling compound and painted plaster of paris around the neck of each tooth to simulate calculus and stains. In 1907, Irene Newman first performed oral prophylaxis for the public at Dr. Fones's new office, the carriage house at 10 Washington Avenue, in Bridgeport. Dental professionals would come from some distance to visit this “modern edifice of oral health care.”
In 1913, with $46,000 in funds and donations, Dr. Fones opened a dental hygiene school in the rear of the carriage house. Thirty-four women were accepted into the first class. Courses included Tooth Anatomy, Histology, and Clinical Practice. Many students were mature women who were schoolteachers, nurses, and doctors’ wives. Classroom lectures were given by local dentists, dental instructors from nearby Yale and Columbia Universities, and even by professionals from Japan. By the second year, sixteen green dental chairs (on loan) replaced the students’ desks. A large vat of boiling water was the “sterilization center” for the instruments. The first women graduated and were ready to practice in June 1915.
After some years, Dr. Fones
suspended operation of the school so that he could be free to travel
and lecture on dental hygiene. He died in 1938. In 1949, dental
professionals and the Junior College of Connecticut (of which Dr. Fones
was a trustee) collaborated to reopen the Fones School of Dental
Hygiene, which is now located on the University of Bridgeport campus,
near the grounds of the old carriage house.