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Dentistry Ohio

'Living' Article November 2010


November 2010


Dental Pioneer Tribute:

Willoughby Dayton Miller (1853-1907)

The Dental Caries Detective


In the spirit of Thanksgiving I introduce you today to Dr. Willoughby D. Miller, a dental pioneer whose legacy paved the way to dramatically improved dental health.  As a young American graduate student in physics at the University of Berlin in 1875, Miller decided instead to become a dentist.  Returning to the United States, he graduated in 1879 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry and returned to Germany to begin his dental Practice.  In 1884 Dr. Miller became Royal Professor at the University of Berlin, the first foreigner to receive this title.

Miller ultimately also earned an M.D. degree and studied bacteriology under another medical pioneer, the renowned Robert Koch, the discoverer of the cause of tuberculosis.  Miller’s exhaustive research on the origin of tooth decay/dental caries led to publication in 1889 of the dental classic, Microorganisms of the Human Mouth.  The author’s theory was that carbohydrates fermented by normal oral bacteria produced acids that broke down tooth enamel, permitting other bacteria to invade the tooth and destroy the dentin beneath.  Miller is credited with creating the foundation upon which all subsequent research on tooth decay has been based. 

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