History of Philippine Dentistry

Dental practice in the Philippines today is fast becoming a powerful force in helping shape the future of the country under the New Society. The dedicated efforts and personal sacrifices of Filipino practitioners who work hard to serve the public and keepup the dignity of the dental profession are guarantees of a bright future for our expanding missions of people who need oral health care.

Early Filipinos, even before the advent of the Spaniards had been practicing some crude form of dentistry. Barbers doubled up as dental practitioners. They used queer methods of treating toothaches. They used their fingers and sometimes nail-pliers for extracting teeth.

Real dental practice in the country began more than a hundred years ago. It started in the district of Quiapo, City of Manila, in the time of Capital Jose Arevalo, popularly known as Capitan Cheng- Cheng. He was gradually regarded as the first Filipino dentist. An expert in carving tooth and plate on a single ivory piece, Capitan Chengcheng established his dental office in the same place. He had his wife for his assistant. She was also skilled in gold craftsmanship.

About the year 1858, a French dentist from Hong Kong, known as Monsieur M. Fertri, came to Manila and set up a dental office in Quiapo. He was a very able dentist but not a good prosthetist. On this account he had to look for an assistant who could make artificial teeth. He found Capitan Chengcheng who no sooner became his partner in the profession. The joint practice of these two unassuming dentists marked the dentistry in the country.

During the Spanish regime, practice of dentistry was popularly known as the profession of the sacamuelas or tooth pullers. Since it was not a legally established profession, any persons who was capable of extracting teeth, could practice as a sacamuela without rendering himself culpable of illegal practice of dentistry. Later a special course was established in the University of Santo Tomas for cirujanos ministrantes which was eventually changed to cirujano dentistas. This curriculum, although a very crude one, marked a milestone of great significance in the development of dentistry as a profession.

When the Americans occupied the Islands, the Islands, the Military Governor of the Philippines, Major General Elwell Otis, authorized the then Provost Marshall General to determine the fitness of those who were already practicing dentistry. Accordingly, examinations were given and licenses subsequently issued. The requirement marked the beginning of the trend toward state supervision of the dental practice of the country.

Three years after, with the change from a military to a civil government, the Islands were placed under a governing body known as the Philippine Commission. It was this body, which, in 1903, passed the famous Act No. 593, considered to be the second step towards the maturation of dentistry in the Philippines into a profession. This Act provided for the organization of the Board of Dental Examiners and vested with powers substantially similar to those the present Board enjoys. The members of this Board were: Dr. Robert T. Olliver, chairman; Dr. Wallace G. Skidmore, secretary-treasurer; and Dr. Antonio Vergel de Dios, member.

The effects of American education began to be felt and were highlighted by the arrival of Filipino dentists who earned their degrees from American dental schools. Some of these Filipino dentists were Drs. Gregorio R. Mateo, Francisco Ponce, Placido Flores and Joaquin A. Lada. While Filipino dentists increased, the dental needs and problems of the people also increased. To solve this, they bonded themselves together into an organization called the Sociedad dental de Filipinas with Don Bonifacio Areavalo as president, Gregorio R. Mateo as vice-president, F. Calleja and Juan Villanueva as secretary and treasurer respectively. This organization was instrumental towards the establishment of dental schools and initiation of reforms for the improvement of the profession. Colegio Dental del Liceo de Manila was the first dental school established under the leadership of Gregorio R. Mateo, Antonio Oliveros, Crispulo Layoc and others. This was later renamed the Philippine Dental College consisted of three years professional course leading to the degree of D.D.S. Gregorio Agramon ably edited the Odontologia Filipina, the official organ of the society as an offshoot of the Sociedad Dental del Filipinas.

Later, more dental schools were established in the country. These schools were: The University of the Philippines (1915), National UniversityCentro Escolar University (1925) and the Manila College of Dentistry (1929). The last three universities mentioned offered a three-year course leading to the degree of D.D.S. while the University of the Philippines offered a four-year course leading to the same degree. Later, it adopted the three-year course leading to D.D.S. and offered an additional one year post graduate course to the degree of D.D.M. Only high school graduates were allowed to enroll in the school of dentistry in all the universities mentioned. During this time, American Dental officers from the United States Army took time out to teach dentistry in some of these schools. Noted among these were Col. George G. Graham, Periodontology; Maj. Harry Smalley, Prosthesis and Maj. Thomas Page, Operative Dentistry. (1925),

In 1924, a flash of new dentists graduated. For mutual benefits they organized the National Dental Association. The first president was Dr. Francisco Tecson. This organization published its official organ, The National Dental Review with Dr. Eladio Aldecoa, editor.

Development in dental education progressed as the 1929 Philippine Legislature passed a law known as Act No. 3538 lengthening the dental course from three to four years and in 1930 enacted a reciprocity provision forbidding foreign dentists from practicing in the Philippines if they came from countries which did not grant same privilege to Filipino dentists. Four years after this law was passed, another was introduced which would practically kill dentistry as a profession because the bill provided that medical practitioners could engage in dentistry without taking the dental examinations. Dr. Victorino G. Villa and Dr. Gervasio Eraña fought bitterly the passage of this bill but to no avail. Very luckily, Governor General Frank Murphy vetoed it.

In 1936, the United States’ dental education adopted a minimum two-year pre-dental course as a pre-requirement for the study of dentistry. This greatly disturbed the Philippine dental schools set-up. Further development along the line was cut short by the outbreak of World War II.

Ten years before World War II dental practice was fairly advanced due to importation of dental materials from the United States.

During the Japanese occupation in 1942-1945, the dentists were either hesitant or afraid to practice. As a result of this, periodontal disease became rampant. School curricula were made to fit the occupationists’ propaganda. The few who practiced showed resourcefulness in meeting the demands of the profession.

During the Chaotic war in the country, Filipino dentists remained ignorant as to the advances made in the field of dentistry in the United States. So, when the United States and Armed Forces Liberated the Philippines, dentists began to be active again and the two organizations that existed before the war were finally unified and the Philippine Dental Association was born.

Under one national organization, dentists were united and made great efforts to catch up with the developments in dental science from foreign countries. The official organ of the organization which was the Journal of the Philippine Dental Association made its first issue in January 1948 and had consistently informed the interested readers the recent developments of dental science in many countries.

Two years after the war, dental equipments were very much improved and there developed an overflow of students seeking admission in dental schools. As a result, four new dental schools were established. In 1948, the Philippine College of Dental Medicine was opened and later renamed the College of Dentistry of the University of the East. In the Visayan Islands three institutions were founded. These were: Southwestern Colleges, Iloilo City Colleges and the University of San Agustin.

Dr. Victorino G. Villa, the Dean of College of Dentistry of the University of the Philippines contributed much to the advancement of dentistry in the country. His paper on the detino-enamel article carried Philippine dentistry around the world. Dr. Villa’s researches appeared in publications in the United States, since then. Mean while, Dr. Luz. C. Macapanpan made contributions along histology and added to the effort of Filipino dentists in research.

There were also advances in dental legislation in the country during the post war it was then that the Philippine Dental Association played its major part in the enactment of the new Dental Law. In 1948, the Congress of the Philippines enacted H.B. 2783 and was signed into Republic Act No. 417 by President Elpidio Quirino. This law specifically provided for practical tests in the dental board examinations; imposed a two-year pre-dental course as admission requirement for the study of dentistry; set and increased the penal provision for illegal practice of dentistry; and effected changes in the qualifications and tenure of office and duties of the members of the Board of Dental Examiners. Congressman Ricardo Y. Ladrido also a dentist, sponsored other legislations which improved dentistry in the country. To mention one., was the Republic Act No. 481, separating the Dental Corps from the Medical Service and creating it as a separate technical service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In the years between 1945 and 1957, several changes were introduced in clinical dentistry due to these following factors: (1) the professionals’ growth in dental schools and influx of foreign literature; (2) the increase in the number of dentists coming from the United States and (3) the efforts of organized dentistry in conducting regular scientific meetings and the conventions held annually by the Philippine Dental Association.

The New Society initiated by President Ferdinand E. Marcos a bright hope in the advancement of dentistry in the country. The Philippine Dental Association which is a member of the Asian Pacific Dental Federation is hosting its 8th Congress on February 7-12, 1977 at the Philippine Convention Center ( a new structure under the New Society). The Philippine participation on this Congress manifests a strong determination of the Filipino dentist advancing dental technology in the country. This is all due to the efforts of the active members of the Philippine Dental Association, the bulwark of dentistry in the Philippines.

It is surmised that in the future, all persons and agencies concerned will never tire to pursue and accomplish its objectives for the betterment of the health and welfare of the Filipinos.

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