In the middle of the Depression, coal miners needed dentures … and the Universal Dental Company needed a distributor.

larry_2012What 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.