Exhibition honors pioneering dentist 100 years after death
More than 100 years ago, Dr. Willoughby Dayton Miller advanced a novel theory that dental caries (decay) was an infectious process caused by bacteria. At the time, 1890, he also suggested the mouth harbors bacteria that may influence not just oral health but general health too.
Those ideas, based on his extensive research, were radical at the time. Over the years, however, they profoundly affected how biologists, dentists and medical professionals worldwide viewed disease.
Miller's pioneering research and international reputation led to an offer from the U-M Dental College, as it was known in the early 20th century, to become its dean. Miller arrived in Ann Arbor in July 1907 and met with dental faculty to discuss his plans for the fall. But he died on July 27, following an attack of appendicitis before he could assume his duties as dean. He was 54.
To mark the centennial anniversary of Miller's death, the School of Dentistry is sponsoring an exhibition, "W.D. Miller: Scientific Pioneer of Dentistry (1853-1907)," that focuses on his research and contributions to oral health. One exhibit case is on display in the school's Sindecuse Museum on the first floor lobby of the Kellogg Institute Building. Another is in the school's library.
Sindecuse Museum exhibit
Among the items being displayed in the museum through December are Miller's microscope, donated after his death to the School of Dentistry by his widow, Caroline Miller. The collection also comprises other laboratory artifacts including an English Bunsen burner, hand instruments, tweezers, litmus vials, bottles and test tubes. The English binocular microscope dating from the 1880s, according to O'Dell, gave Miller a clear stereoscopic view of his specimens.
As visitors look at the artifacts and displays in the museum, O'Dell says, "they will gain a better understanding of how Miller set up his laboratory in Germany, where he worked for 28 years, and learn more about who he was and why he is still so highly regarded."
O'Dell adds that the museum expects to show pages from Miller's laboratory notebook (ca. 1900) housed at the Bentley Library. The notebook, she says, includes information about litmus samples of saliva and mucous tests.
For more information about the exhibit, contact Sindecuse Museum Curator Shannon O'Dell at (734) 763-0767 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the Museum is available at www.dent.umich.edu/museum.
Dental Library Collection
Miller's work also will be displayed at the School of Dentistry library. Patricia Anderson, senior associate librarian, notes that Miller's original research is still a valuable resource for researchers worldwide with more than 50 articles published in the past decade citing his book, "The Micro-organisms of the Human Mouth," where he advanced his theory.
"Miller's research still is so well known and so pioneering that requests come from researchers and historians around the world to use Miller's personal library, which is housed here in the U-M Dentistry Library," Anderson says.
"These requests," she continues, "inspired the University Libraries to make Miller's personal library collection available online." The scanning portion of the project was recently completed by University Libraries Digital Library's production services. It is now available as a part of the Dental Historic Collections at quod.lib.umich.edu/d/dentalj.
Information about Miller and his work is online at www.lib.umich.edu/dentlib/about/other/WDMiller/.
Although he never assumed the deanship at Michigan, Miller's achievements have been recognized by the School of Dentistry in two notable ways.
In 1940, a monument honoring him was unveiled in front of the Kellogg Building just off of North University Avenue. Around the same time, a bust of Miller was unveiled. It currently sits atop a pedestal in the lobby of the Kellogg Building at the base of a glass brick wall. Both the monument and the bust were made by Samuel Cashwan, who was with the Michigan Arts and Craft Project.