Dentistry through the history of stamps: meet Dr Henri Aronis, dentist and passionate philatelist

In this special interview Dr Henri Aronis, a dental surgeon who has dedicated his life to safeguarding people’s oral health, shares his story about dentistry through his collection of stamps and souvenirs.

Paris – From his home, in the outskirts of Paris, Dr Henri Aronis, talked us through his experience as a dental practitioner through his collection of stamps and souvenirs. On the bookshelves behind him, we could see his award-winning collection on display.

In 1960, when Dr Aronis graduated from the Free University of Brussels, dentistry was a strikingly different profession. 

“I had a few cases of people who used to take a few shots of liquor from the bistro around the corner, prior to coming for their tooth extraction, mostly without anaesthesia. Surprisingly, these people seemed to take it relatively well,” he explained.

By the 60s, dentistry was evolving into a defined specialty, thanks to the efforts of different experts committed to establishing the field as a health profession. Pioneers in the world of dentistry were of course, Pierre Fauchard, a French surgeon credited as being the “Father of Modern Dentistry” who published his influential book, The Surgeon Dentist  in 1728 and Dr Charles Godon, who in 1900 founded FDI World Dental Federation.

Monsieur Fauchard also had the honour of being featured on a stamp issued by the French postal service in 1961,” Dr Aronis acknowledged. 

As Dr Aronis explained, after the Second World War, philately was mostly focused on commemorative images of royalty, presidents and other professions. It was only later that postage stamps began featuring dentistry themes.

“One of the first stamps to showcase preventive dentistry was a Dutch stamp from 1956, with a child brushing his teeth.”

As for Dr Aronis, his passion for philately, only began years after the first dentistry stamps were issued. Nevertheless, in the early stages of his career, Dr Aronis had already started collecting some dental instruments and memorabilia which he used to exhibit for his patients, in the waiting rooms of his dental practice in Brussels.

“My first dentistry-themed stamp dates from 1983. It’s a stamp I discovered when I was attending an FDI congress in Japan. The second is a stamp from 1985, also found during an FDI congress, in Bangkok this time.”

It was in 2000, at his retirement age, that Dr Aronis began collecting seriously. He would search for stamps at markets and exhibitions, actively building collections around the dentistry theme. This passion enabled him to join stamp clubs in France and win prizes as well as a few trophies, including a gold medal in Belgium.

Some stamps, like the Belgian design by Caroline Gregoire, holds a special place in Dr Aronis’ heart.

“This stamp has a little teddy bear brushing its teeth as he is sitting on the shoulders of a child who is also brushing her teeth. The design won a competition held by the postal service. I simply find it wonderful.”

Caroline Gregoire’s stamp is one of the few Belgian stamps dedicated to preventive dentistry, a practice which Dr Aronis continues to advocate for today, participating to dental conferences worldwide.

“We’ve come a long way since the days dental practice relied mainly on trial and error. There was no choice back then, with the instruments we had at the time. Today, prevention and oral hygiene could pave the way to a world without tooth decay,” he said.

Dr Aronis stressed that we must aim at preventing tooth decay for the future of all people.

“We have great hopes for the future of dental health. It’s obvious that oral health pathologies exist and, unfortunately, will continue to stay, but tooth decay can be avoided mainly by good preventive care.”