New exhibit illustrates timeless importance of community dentistry

In celebration of the ECU School of Dental Medicine’s soon-to-be-opened Ross Hall, Laupus Library will host an exhibit on the history of dental medicine as told through the stories of two rural dentists looking to preserve a piece of history.

One practiced dentistry until age 92. The other established the first dental practice in Kitty Hawk.

Elevating Practices: The Lifework of Two Rural Dentists” is a unique display of dental medicine artifacts available for viewing on the 4th floor of Laupus Library beginning August 15.

The exhibit tells a story that ECU’s future dental graduates hope to perpetuate with their own careers: Dentistry is not just about fixing teeth; it’s an opportunity to improve overall health for rural and underserved patients across the state.

The historic dental instruments, supplies and equipment on display were originally owned and used by Samuel B. Milford, DDS (1864-1956) in his practice in Poolesville, Maryland. An active dentist until the very end of his life, he extracted three teeth for a Poolesville resident just three weeks before his death on June 10, 1956 at the age of 92.

Dr. Roger W.R. Sears, DDS of Moyock, NC purchased Dr. Milford’s collection of dental items in the 1950s and displayed them at his dental practice in Kitty Hawk – the town’s very first dental practice – until he retired in 2007. In 2011, Dr. Sears gave his collection of dental artifacts to The Country Doctor Museum.

The doctors’ tools – now artifacts – show us just how far dental technology has progressed in the past century. But while the tools have changed, the need remains for dedicated community dentists similar to Drs. Milford and Sears.

Among the items to be exhibited are Dr. Milford’s examination chair (ca. 1900), dental cabinet and various dental instruments. The artifacts have been temporarily housed at Laupus Library for identification and conservation. ECU graduate students Whitney Petrey and Emily Powell have worked to organize, document and conserve the Sears dentistry collection.

For additional information on this exhibit, go to  For additional information on the items in the Sears collection, visit the Digital Collections at East Carolina University

–Dr. Dorothy A. Spencer, Director of Laupus Library