Hidden behind an unassuming exterior on West 21st Street in Manhattan, the Dentorium was the site of some of the most daring and bizarre experiments in 20th century denture design.
Dentorium was founded in 1928 by British expatriate Leonard Gray. The previous year, Gray had been expelled from the British Society of Denturists for his use of “unorthodox” and “experimental” methods. He emigrated to America the following year and founded Dentorium in the city’s harpsichord district. His mission, as stated on handbills and tracts he distributed: “to aid the common man in exceeding the miserly dental allotment Nature has seen fit to bequeath him”.
But while Dentorium converted remaindered harpsichord ivory into low-priced dentures by day, Gray busied himself with secret experimental models by night. Toothless alcoholics, lured in by Gray with promises of soft food and potent liquor, soon turned up in Bowery flophouses outfitted with bizarre dental apparatus: streamlined aluminum dentures, teeth of brightly colored glass, heated dentures, even an intricate double-rowed jaw fashioned after the mouth of a shark.
Finally, in 1933 a cocker spaniel turned up at the city pound, its mouth gleaming with artificial human teeth. Its picture was splashed across the tabloids, and in short order the spaniel was traced back to Dentorium. There, in Gray’s private workshop, authorities discovered his mauled corpse. Whether by his own hand or by accident, he had been consumed by a pair of his own mechanized “self-chewing” dentures.