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What I learned from fact-checking Irene Newman's tombstone

The “Web Weaving” column by Lory Laughter in RDH magazine contains links to a variety of professional resources that are usually helpful. Sometimes, she will mention a website that will be merely fun or amusing to the dental professional.

We kind of forced Lory to be fun with the column that will be appearing in the February 2013 issue. The column kicks off a full year of the magazine’s columnists saying “Happy Birthday, dental hygiene!” since the profession turns 100 years old tomorrow. The Internet, Lory’s domain as a columnist, is a big part of dental hygiene’s future, but only played a limited role during much of the profession’s past. Nevertheless, we thought she did a good job of using the Internet to help you celebrate the past.

I was fact-checking the column along with other articles for the February issue. By fact checking, I probably should point out that the film industry’s depiction of fact-checkers doesn’t really apply here. Usually, I just google the name of a drug or disease to see if everyone else is spelling it the same way. The biggest fear behind our fact checking is that a writer will comment on a new drug or disease that has never been written about, hence Google can’t find anything in its search. I suspect a writer will do this to me on April 1st some year. This is the main reason that columnists have a deadline of April 10th, not April 1st.

In addition to other websites of historical interest to dental hygiene, Lory sent me busily fact-checking Her specific link gives us a good view of Irene Newman’s tombstone. Newman, the first dental hygienist, was buried at Mt. Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, CT., in 1958.

Lory’s link worked, one fact-checking detail completed. But I paused for a minute and checked out who was also buried at the cemetery. Dr. Alfred Fones, the founder of dental hygiene, is buried there, as well as other assorted legislators, athletes, generals, and industrialists.

So is General Tom Thumb. He was the most famous dwarf of the 1800s, gaining nationwide fame as a circus performer.

If you subscribe to the theory that spirits do interact with each other at cemeteries, that could have been an awkward moment when Newman was introduced around.

“Hello, most people just call me General Tom Thumb. I was in the circus. Nice to meet you, Irene. What did you do during your life?”

“I was the first dental hygienist.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“We came along after you passed. We taught people how to take care of their teeth better. Many of our patients were schoolchildren, about your size. If you’ll just lean back a bit, I can take a look at your teeth.”

“Did you just call me shorty?”

“I believe diminutive is the term.”

Early in 2012, Nello Ferrara, the inventor of the Atomic Fireballs candy, passed away at his home in the Chicago suburbs. Chicago is the current center of the dental hygiene universe, home of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. The graveyards in Chicago are populated with former dental hygienists who labored mightily against the dental problems associated with hard candy, which they despised more than all other sweets.

“Hello, just call me Nello. Nice to meet you.”

“We know who you are. We’ve been waiting for you. We’re dental hygienists. We requested to be buried with our instruments.”

“Ah, well, that’s good. Guess I’ll still need the six-month checkup, huh?”

“Oh, we were thinking more than twice a year, Nello. Much more frequently, in fact.”

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Comment by Kirsten Brancheau on December 31, 2012 at 10:56am

I've often said I'd probably die with instruments in my hand since I'll never be able to retire due to my kids' college loans. But please don't bury me with my instruments! An eternity of cleaning teeth? Not my idea of Heaven.


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