Got a Toothache? There’s a Saint for That

New Online Exhibit in the Dugoni School’s “Virtual Dental Museum” Spotlights St. Apollonia – the Patron Saint of Dentistry

Image courtesy of University of the Pacific Permanent Collection, Donors: Frederick S. Warford, DDS, Father Guido Cocetti

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (Nov. 20, 2017) – For just about as long as humans have had teeth and eaten starchy foods, they have had to contend with dental discomfort. In the 14th century, as dental ills among people of Western Europe increased, toothache sufferers began to turn to a little-known saint in hopes of relief.

A new online exhibit from University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry’s “Virtual Dental Museum” explores the history and iconography of Saint Apollonia — the patron saint of the dental profession.

Her origin story is not a happy one. She was reputedly an “aged deaconess” living in Alexandria, Egypt in the third century AD, who, rather than renounce God, had her teeth knocked out and then leaped into a bonfire. While she attracted little attention in the years (and centuries) following her death, in the Middle Ages people began to revive her story because of the tooth-loss component of her tale.

St. Apollonia continues to give solace to the dentally afflicted in those Christian communities where the belief in saintly benevolence is cherished. Over many centuries, she has been revered in religious paintings, sculptures, cathedral stained glass images, drama and literature, and honored on February 9, her designated day of celebration. She was adopted as the patron saint of dentistry, possibly in medieval times, and continues to hold that place of distinction, with many of today’s dental societies, magazines and practices bearing her name.

The exhibit can be viewed at

 The A.W. Ward Museum of Dentistry was founded in 1974 in honor of one of the Dugoni School of Dentistry’s early graduates and a pioneer of surgical periodontics, Abraham Wesley Ward, P&S Class of 1902. Since its inception, the collection has grown from in-kind donations, made primarily by alumni. Most of the artifacts date from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. Donated items are catalogued, with description and donor information maintained in an EmbARK database. The school’s Institute of Dental History and Craniofacial Study maintains four collections, the Ward Museum being one, to support the preservation and study of dental history, craniofacial biology and evolution.

 More information about the collections is available on the school’s website at

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