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George Relyea brought vulcanizers, used to make dentures, to Ontario.


Along with Barnabas Day, another key figure in the development of professional dentistry in Ontario was Dr. George Relyea, who grew up on a farm near Albany, N.Y. Dr. Relyea was quick to say he was "not content to be a farmer" but after a failed attempt at being a shop owner, a chance encounter with a dental student set him on a much different path.

Dr. Relyea couldn't afford the cost of dental college tuition, so he attended lectures at a nearby college and apprenticed with a physician and dentist. In 1842, Dr. Relyea moved to Kingston, Ont., where there was no local dentist, a common trend he noticed in many Ontario towns he toured shortly after his arrival in Canada. He eventually settled in Belleville, Ont., and established a thriving dental practice.

Dr. Relyea became well known around the province for getting dental vulcanizers, used to make dentures, across the U.S. border and into Canada. Vulcanizers improved the process of making dentures, which had previously been hand-carved bridges affixed with wooden teeth or even teeth taken from corpses. A mixture of rubber gum and sulphur would be combined to form vulcanite and provide the basis of dental plates which would be hardened in the vulcanizer. Porcelain teeth would then be attached to the customized dental plates and worn just like today's dentures.

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When vulcanite became available, Dr. Relyea went to his home state of New York and secured the distribution rights for the process for Canada. He went on to sell vulcanizers and tutorials on how to use it to fellow dentists across the province.

This content was produced by the Ontario Dental Association. The Globe and Mail was not involved in its creation.

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