Legacy of Dental Care at Milton Hershey School Brings Smiles
While growing up, Milton Hershey moved several times, attended seven different schools, and did not receive the best dental care. Because of this, his wife, Catherine, caringly looked after him during their marriage. When the Hersheys created the Hershey Industrial School with the Deed of Trust in 1909, they wanted the students to have happy, healthy, and stable childhoods. The Deed of Trust specified how the students would be cared for.
“All orphans admitted to the School shall be fed with plain, wholesome food; plainly neatly, and comfortably clothed, without distinctive dress; and fitly lodged. Due regard shall be paid to their health; their physical training shall be attended to, and they shall have suitable and proper exercise and recreation.”
Dental care has been an important part of the health services of the School with an infirmary and dental clinic established in 1917. The first dentist, W. E. Vallerchamp, D.D.S. and his wife, made four examinations of the boys’ teeth each year and “fills or does with them whatever he finds necessary.” This service was performed by the Vallerchamps in exchange for trolley or railroad fare and the needed supplies. After the first four years, they received a small yearly stipend as a Christmas gift.
The 1926 School catalog described the dental department in great detail with the assurance that “everything is done to preserve and retain the teeth and have the mouth in as perfect condition as is humanly possible.” The students received regular dental examinations on modern, up-to-date equipment and if they observe the good dental care instructions, after they leave the school, “they should have remarkable teeth indeed.”
The same quality care was received at the school Milton Hershey created in Hershey, Cuba. School attendance was not well established in Cuba, so the schedule was structured. The boys had classes to attend, fields to cultivate, baths to take, and teeth to brush. In the two-room homes from which many of the boys came, the toothbrush was not a familiar object. The housemother had to brush the teeth of most new arrivals. Every Monday the dentist paid a visit.
When the time came to expand dental services for Milton Hershey School, Mr. Hershey went to someone he knew—his personal dentist in Lancaster. Dr. Herbert K. Cooper became Director of the Dental Clinic and the school orthodontist in 1934. Dr. Cooper’s son, Dr. John A. Cooper, remembers his father saying that Mr. Hershey lost some teeth from eating caramels, and that his father made Mr. Hershey’s first dentures.
The dental clinic featured state of the art equipment such as a clinical camera unit where improved changes in the facial outline could be clearly observed giving the students “every advantage to gain self-confidence,” as described in the 1935 School catalog.
When the Junior-Senior High School (now Catherine Hall) opened in 1934, the dental clinic moved to that building. The clinic contained three examination chairs and an x-ray machine. A poster on the wall featured a dental Honor Roll that stated, “Teeth are an Index of Health.”
To further expand care for the students, the school began employing dentist and dental hygienist interns in the early 1940s. The 1965 Year in Review report stated that, “the dental department attempts to provide complete dental services for every boy, to stimulate an appreciation of good dental health, and to foster and promote good dental health habits thus contributing to the total physical and mental health of the students.”
That year, for the first time, each senior was provided with a complete full mouth radiographic examination. Good dental care did not just happen in the dental clinic. Dental staff made weekly visits to student homes to check on toothbrushes and their care in the warm home environment. This “home care” was in cooperation with the National Institute of Health.
Today, Milton Hershey School continues to provide high-quality dental care for the entire student body. Our dental team helps students establish a regular treatment routine and a long-term appreciation for dental health by providing dental exams, X-rays, cleanings, fluoride treatments, fillings, extractions, crowns, bridges, and dental sealants. In the 2020-2021 academic year, there were 13,143 visits to the dental services.