COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dental chairs, forceps and teeth are just some of the items you’ll be able to see when the Museum of Dental History is officially open to the public. A retired dentist has been collecting artifacts for decades, and gave News 19 a look at his collection.
"I loved every minute of it," Dr. Staci Gaffos shares about his 56 years practicing dentistry. "It wasn’t like going to work. It was like going to play."
Gaffos is recently retired, but he hasn’t given up on dentistry. Now, he’s dedicating his time to sharing it with the public through opening the museum of dental history on Crowson Road at the intersection of Fort Jackson Boulevard and Devine Street.
"I was a collector and I collected stamps and coins and why not dental stuff?" Gaffos remembers. "I would go to antique stores and say, ‘Do you have any old dental stuff?’ And no one ever had any."
This prompted Gaffos to join the American Academy of the History of Dentistry, where he eventually became president. He collected everything from teeth to old toothpaste holders to dental chairs from World War I. In 2008, he decided to start a museum, which he was finally ready to open in 2014. Just a few months later, the 1,000 year flood hit Columbia.
"Four feet of raging water came in here," Gaffos recalls. "So I had to start all over again."
He’s spent the last nine years restoring the damage that was done — and now he’s finally ready to re-open. Gaffos tells me he’s excited to see people, which is something he’s missed since retiring.
"I loved my patients and it felt like you were doing a service to people to keep them out of pain and give them a nice smile and give them a healthy mouth," Gaffos smiles.
Now, he’s hoping to serve through educating people about dentistry, which he learned about through a career that started with inspiration from his hometown of Camden.
Gaffos says his "good friend" had just gotten out of the military.
"He was a modern dentist. He gave Novacane," Gaffos smiles thinking about Dr. David Joseph. "Before that, dentists weren’t even giving Novacane so he just inspired me with his professionalism."
Gaffos graduated from the University of South Carolina. Then, Gaffos realized his next adventure would take him away from the Palmetto State.
"I had a good friend, Dr. Neill Macaulay, who was on the medical board down at MUSC. And he helped me to get in dental school because when I was trying to get in dental school, they didn’t have one in South Carolina," Gaffos explains. "So he was the liaison between students trying to get into dental school and out-of-state dental school and so he helped me get into University of Alabama."
It was Macaulay who inspired Gaffos to start collecting dental artifacts as a way to preserve history.
"I think Woodrow Wilson once said, ‘The further you can look back to history, the further you can look into the future." Gaffos shares. "So I think we look back and see where dentistry has come from."
Gaffos tells News 19 he plans to open that museum to the public twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays starting in July.