Did You Know These Famous People Were Dentists?

dentist standing with arms crossed in front of a blank white wall

Sometimes people become famous for their dentistry skills or achievements, like Pierre Fauchard, the father of modern dentistry, or Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first female dentist. Other times, celebrity overtakes any other work or education done.

These five famous people from history are known for their other pursuits, but all of them also practiced dentistry.

Doc Holliday

Famous for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone with Wyatt Earp, the events of which multiple movies and media have been made, Doc Holliday got his nickname from, well, being a doctor. 

Born as John Henry Holliday, he earned his DDS at the age of 20 from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. However, the minimum age to practice dentistry in 1872 was 21, so the college had to hold his degree for five months until his birthday. 

It’s hard to imagine having a dentist only 21 years old work on your teeth, especially because we have such high standards of education today. Dentists such as Dr. Roman Shlafer in Farmington, MI are educated for years and pursue continuing education as they practice. But in Holliday’s time, being treated by such a young dentist was not abnormal.

Shortly after he began practicing dentistry, he started to show symptoms of tuberculosis. When Holliday was 15 years old, his mother died from the same disease and he caught it from her. He was given a few months to live and told that a warmer, drier climate might help, so he packed his bags and left for Texas.

Despite the tuberculosis diagnosis that would eventually lead to his death, he continued to practice dentistry throughout his life in various locations. He had to give it up as a main profession as his condition worsened, turning to the (at the time) respectable profession of gambling.

Zane Grey

Well-known western novel writer Zane Grey, author of Riders of the Purple Sage, didn’t start out pursuing his passion. Born as Pearl Zane Grey, his father worked as a dentist and taught Grey to do basic extractions as he grew up, and he practiced dentistry alongside his father until the state board intervened. 

He played baseball in the summers and was eventually spotted by a scout, receiving offers from many colleges. Grey chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania on his baseball scholarship, studying dentistry. His passion very clearly differed from his studies though, as he barely held the minimum grade point average and spent most of his time playing baseball and writing.

After graduating, he practiced dentistry in New York City as Dr. Zane Grey. He chose New York City to be close to publishers for the sake of his writing, working as a dentist because it was a practical option.

His writing career took off after a while, publishing in magazines and eventually writing novels. Grey popularized the Western novel genre and became a household name.

Edgar Buchanan

Another famous figure whose career didn’t blossom until later includes Edgar Buchanan, a famous actor who starred in over 100 movies and numerous popular TV shows. Best known for his roles in Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies, he actually started out as a dentist.

Buchanan attended the North Pacific College School of Dentistry, earning his DDS in 1928. He met his wife as a classmate in dental school and they married after he graduated. The couple moved to Altadena, California and moved their dental practice there. On the side, Buchanan pursued acting and joined the Pasadena Playhouse.

It wasn’t until the age of 36 that he appeared in his first movie, My Son is Guilty. When his acting career began to pick up, he turned his dental practice over to his wife to become a full-time actor.

Jim Lonborg

Jim Lonborg, nicknamed “Gentleman Jim,” enjoyed a 15-season-long career in professional baseball and is well-known for his pitching skills. But he started out as a pre-med student at Stanford, choosing baseball after his graduation when he was signed by the Red Sox. It turned out to be a pretty good decision for him, given his status in baseball.

However, after he retired from baseball he returned to his studies. He graduated from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, where Dr. Ronald Plotka taught for ten years. Lonborg practiced general dentistry in Massachusetts from 1983 to 2017, retiring to enjoy gardening, golfing, and visiting family.

Paul Revere

Revere’s family owned a silver shop that he eventually took over. However, as the tension between Britain and the American colonies kicked up, his business began to decline. Before joining the war effort, he tried out a number of professions in order to make ends meet.

While his silver business suffered, he practiced dentistry to earn money. He learned his dentistry skills from a practicing surgeon who was staying at a friend’s house. The standard of dental education in Revere’s life was obviously laxer than today, as most dentists, like Dr. Charles Schumacher in Farmington, NM, must undergo at least eight years of school before practicing dentistry.

During this time, Revere formed a close friendship with a client named Dr. Joseph Warren, a local physician and political opposition leader. This connection helped lead to Revere’s involvement in the revolution, and the famous ride we know of today.