How a cockerel sealed the enduring fame of a Dentist

Written by
22nd July 2014

The unusual tale of two heros from separate professions, springing from the same family!

I refer to the two Glasgow-born Hunter brothers, William a celebrated physician and obstetrician, and John a dentist. Both made outstanding contributions to their respective professions but John’s reputation eventually outstripped his brother’s.
Originally John came to London to work alongside his older brother William. Because he had not done an apprenticeship as a doctor, John could not establish a medical practice so he became a dentist.

He was the first person to attempt the transplant of a tooth, by implanting it into the comb of a cockerel. The implantation worked but was not successful when placed into a human jaw. It took another 200 years and the invention of the titanium implant for a replacement tooth to be successful.
To this day, however, the head of a cockerel is the emblem of the Board of the Faculty of Dental Surgery and appears on the Dean’s ceremonial robe. Despite being the younger, John Hunter’s name lives on in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, which houses his collection of human and animal specimens.

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