WASHINGTON – It’s hard to imagine anyone confusing the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry with “a little storefront museum.”
The Baltimore museum, housed at the oldest school of dentistry in the nation, houses more than 7,000 square feet of all things tooth- and toothbrush-related, including George Washington’s ivory dentures and a toothbrush fashioned out of twigs.
But supporters hope to distinguish the national museum even further with a congressional declaration that it is, well, the national museum of dentistry.
The House on Tuesday passed, on a voice vote, a resolution that recognizes the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, as the official museum of its kind.
The designation does not come with any federal funds, but museum and American Dental Association officials expect another kind of payout. They hope it will increase popularity and assistance for the oral-care showcase, where 10,000 people a year peruse dental documents, hands-on activities and rare artifacts.
“We think it will affect support down the line, just because it raises awareness and it’s going to be a sense of pride in the dental community,” said Rosemary Fetter, the museum’s executive director. “We’re hoping that as soon as the House passes it the Senate will just want to jump on board and make a move quickly.”
The House resolution was introduced in April by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., introduced a similar resolution in the Senate in May.
Michael Graham, a senior congressional lobbyist for the ADA, said he hopes the Senate will pass the resolution so that President Bush can approve it by early next year.
Fetter said the museum, located at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, is unique for several reasons. While other collections focus on history, the National Museum of Dentistry is education-oriented, she said. And its creation was a national effort.
As an affiliate of the Smithsonian, the museum, which offers traveling exhibits and hands-on materials for local dentists, can also borrow artifacts, programs and expertise from the Smithsonian’s vast possessions.
“Over the years it has been an invaluable resource,” said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, on the House floor.
“There is no health without oral health,” he added.
Cummings did not attend the vote because he was at a funeral Tuesday.
Graham said he hopes the attention will persuade more people to visit the museum.
“As thousands of kids and other patrons go through this museum, they’ll say, ‘It’s not just this little storefront museum. It’s something that Congress has recognized,’ ” he said. “It gives a lot of weight to this museum.”