Penn Dental Turns 100 with a French Connection–Is There a Role for Social Media?


The Philly dentist who helped fix Napoleon III’s bad tooth

Penn Dental School’s founder, Thomas Evans, who was Napoleon III’s dentist.

I guess you could start with the question, “avez-vous un mal de dents ?”, which the founder of Penn Dental and dentist to Napoleon III, Thomas Evans, a kid from West Philly  would ask his patients, i.e. if they had a tooth ache.  Which is how he got to be so famous.

And so how did this dentist from West Philly end up in Paris?

He discovered gold.  Not the way the miners did in Sutter Creek in California in 1848. Evans discovered that gold made an ideal filling for dental cavities.  Word of Evans and his advances in gold fillings got to Europe and Napoleon III’s dentist, an American named Cyrus Brewster, invited Evans to come and join him in Paris.

Evidently, the Emperor of the Second Republic of France and the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon III , ruler of France, had a very bad tooth-ache in 1847 but Dr. Brewster was no where to be found so Evans was called to fill-in (no pun).

The emperor’s tooth pain vanished but the fortunes of the American dentist who filled his tooth soared.  He went on to be dentist to the stars (well, celebrities) across Europe and he went from hand-to-mouth poverty (not quite) to hand-to-mouth riches (quite), not to mention other dental innovations.

Dr. Evans was a pioneer in the use of Nitrous Oxide as an anaesthetic, and helped develop rubber-based dentures, as opposed to the expensive and uncomfortable metal varieties of the day.

Napoleon III of France

The Philly dentist served out his practice in Paris serving Napoleon III not only as a dentist but as an advisor. He was sent to see President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 to get the 16th President’s briefing on the status of the Civil War and return to Paris to brief the emperor.  He put his talents and accumulated wealth, estimated at $5 million in 1897, to good use. Well, one was particularly.  The first was basically a grave site monument to himself, a 90-foot tall granite obelisk in the northern edge of The Woodlands cemetery in West Philly, believed to be the tallest monument in the country for a non-President. It dominates the space, surrounded by stonework and shaded by a towering tulip tree.

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The Woodlands cemetery in West Philly, home of Thomas Evans’ 90-foot tall granite obelisk, the tallest obelisk in the U.S. for a non-president.  

Priority number two was what makes him important to Penn–the Evans Building for which Dr. Evans left a sizable chunk of money to build a dental school and museum, which eventually found a home on the corner of Penn’s Campus.

During its 100 years, thousands of would-be dentists have mastered their trade inside the walls.

Evans Building

So how does Penn Dental dutifully honor its founder?

One might be to draw the comparison of Penn Dental’s founder with Penn’s founder, Benjamin Franklin.  Both were scientists, diplomats, favorites of European royalty, and even ladies men).

Does a social media campaign have a role?  Does Penn Dental encourage its alumnae to tweet about happenstance experiences like the one that led Dr. Evans to fame and fortune that they might have experienced?  Is there room for an Instagram campaign of “famous fannies” like the one former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had for those who sat on his front porch in Pascagoula, MS,except in dental chairs?

Does a Facebook page make sense honoring Dr. Evans and his role as not only dentist to Europe’s royalty, but who, like Lafayette and Franklin after him, kept France on the side of the colonies and then the U.S. who both have rich and profound ties to Penn?

I think so.  NPR Digital Services did a survey targeting its stations by geolocation to see which kinds of stories most engaged listeners.  They found nine: 1. place explainers; 2. crowd pleasers; 3. curiosity stimulation; 4. news explainers; 5. major breaking news; 6. feel good smilers; 7. topical buzzers; 8. provocative controversies; and 9. awe-inspiring visuals.  Seems a dental school where teeth, smiles, and awe-inspiring visuals would have plenty of social media grist for a campaign to honor the father of Penn dentistry, whose story by itself is pretty engaging.

Here’s WHYY’s “The Pulse” story and podcast on Penn Dental’s Thomas Evans by Todd Bookman:

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2 Responses to Penn Dental Turns 100 with a French Connection–Is There a Role for Social Media?

  1. Since I work at the Dental School, I feel I should leave a comment about other social media efforts the Alumni and Development office have going on. Last week, during the 100 Year Celebration kick-off, the Development office debuted a brand new instagram (@penndentalmed) account and a social media campaign #thomasevanstuesday that is trying to encourage student, staff and alumni interaction around the hashtag in the hopes that your post might win you a prize. As of this evening, there are about 22 posts so Im curious to see what happens tomorrow in its second week.

  2. sydhavely says:

    I think the class would be interested in what Penn Dental is doing in social media regarding it’s centennial celebration. Could you talk about it, K’Shelle?

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