In the middle of the Depression, coal miners needed dentures … and the Universal Dental Company needed a distributor.
What you see here (shown) isn’t my old stamp collection, or a portfolio of war medals. This is the Universal Dental Company’s mold guide for Five Phase artificial porcelain teeth. It’s also the single reason you’re reading this today.
Back in 1930 my father Ben opened a dental-supply company in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. At the time, Universal was the second-largest tooth manufacturer in the country – and northeast Pennsylvania was the home of the booming anthracite coal industry. Deep-mined anthracite needed miners, lots of them, and that meant poor immigrants from Eastern Europe with dental issues. In those days, the solution for such problems among immigrants was a full denture.
Universal Dental naturally wanted to sell its teeth in this “hot” market, and the existing dental distributor would not carry its line. The owners of Universal Dental, a Philadelphia-based company, heard about a young guy – also from Philly – who was peddling dental instruments throughout the northeast. They asked him if he’d consider opening a dental-supply company in Wilkes-Barre and representing Universal teeth. My father, 26 at the time, thought it was a good opportunity to settle down and build something permanent. In those days, artificial teeth were an essential ingredient for success in every dental distributor’s inventory (and represented 20 percent of sales volume for a small regional distributor).
Denture teeth today remain an important part of some dental distributors’ armamentarium, but rather than the optimal solution for dental problems, they’re now the last resort, and today represent less than 1 percent of Benco’s volume. They did, however, give birth to Benco Dental – and, decades later, lncisal Edge dental lifestyle magazine.