An unusual dentist is the topic of an exhibition at Freemasons Hall, as this was a dentist who was also a philanthropist. Born in Italy, Bartholomew Ruspini settled in London in the 1750s and brought with him knowledge of dental treatments that were unknown in the UK at the time.
He was rather good at treating toothaches at a time when that was a rare skill and often invented his own treatments. After using a personally developed treatment for bleeding to save the life of the Prince of Wales, he was made the official Surgeon-Dentist, and his personal fortune was sealed as a dentist to the rich.
However, the reason there’s an exhibition about a rich and successful dentist is that he was a philanthropist. He often provided free tooth powder and mouthwash to poor Londoners, and as a Freemason, he established a charity to support the families of freemasons out of work.
A school set up specifically to help the daughters of freemasons in need is still in existence today. Ruspini’s charity is at the heart of today’s Masonic Charitable Foundation, which continues his work 300 years later.
Ruspini became so well known for his selfless deeds that the Pope made him a Chevalier (Knight).
Considering the location in Freemasons’ Hall, the exhibition is mainly about his Freemasonry and how he used his connections to improve his personal position and support his charity work.
A couple of toothbrushes do make a dental appearance, but it’s mainly the man than the craft that’s being talked about. Do look for his business card though, which is by modern standards exceptionally elaborate.
It’s quite a small exhibition, but is in an interesting building and if you’ve never been to the Museum of Freemasonry, that’s worth a visit as well. The exhibition, Generous Dentist: Bartholomew Ruspini is mainly books and documents in glass cases, and can be found in the first-floor library inside the Museum of Freemasonry.
It’s open until February 2022 and is free to visit. The museum and library are open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, and late to 8pm on the first Thursday of each month.
You may also be interested in the British Dental Museum.