Claudius Ash was a silversmith and goldsmith in London, who in the 1820s began to apply his craftsmanship to the making of dentures. Up to this time the majority of false teeth were heavy and largely for show, incapable of allowing intelligible speech and seldom secure enough to permit chewing. They were frequently made from ivory or bone and with no enamel to protect them, early dentures were highly susceptible to decay.
During the first half of the 19th century the most popular and profitable type of dentures available were those made from genuine second-hand teeth. These were frequently acquired from executed criminals and exhumed bodies and were consequently often rotten. The death of 51,000 men at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 meant a sudden surfeit of second-hand teeth. These Waterloo Teeth, a moniker which quickly became applicable to any set of teeth pilfered from the mouth of a dead soldier, continued in use throughout the Crimean and American Civil Wars and were much more preferable to other second-hand teeth. Despite this, Waterloo Teeth were dogged by unappealing “grave robber” connotations.
Claudius Ash transformed the making of dentures. He started manufacturing porcelain teeth mounted on gold plates, with gold springs and wire to hold them in place and make them easier to talk and eat with.
Ash’s dentures laid the foundation of his company, Claudius Ash & Sons, which became Britain’s foremost manufacturer of dentures and dental appliances. The company went on to devise dental plates made of vulcanite and silver, as well as metal insets to stabilise single false teeth, aluminium and gold mesh dental strengtheners and silicate cement for fillings, among much else.
Originally based in Broad Street in London, the business expanded rapidly and by the mid-19th century Claudius Ash dentures and dental equipment dominated the European market.
Claudius Ash & Sons merged with de Trey & Co. in 1924 to form the Amalgamated Dental Company which became a huge manufacturing and wholesale organisation with factories in the UK, Switzerland and Germany and distribution centres in Australia, France, Germany and the USA. The business is now a division of Plandent Ltd. who operate as a subsidiary of Henry Schein UK Holdings Ltd.