Historical Society of

Pottawattamie County

County Seat Council Bluffs, Iowa


Council Bluffs' First Dentist

(Story by Richard Warner.  Dr. Warner is a dentist in Council Bluffs and serves on the board of directors of the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County.)

     A Council Bluffs dentist was one of the first inductees in the Dental Hall of Fame at the University of Southern California. Dr. Charles E. Woodbury made important scientific contributions hailed by the entire profession, stimulated Midwestern dentistry to high levels of competency— and taught as well as practiced here in Council Bluffs throughout his entire career until his retirement in 1950.

      Dr. Woodbury taught at the Creighton University School of Dentistry for 42 years, designed more than one hundred dental instruments, and was a pioneer in the gold foil method of filling teeth.  

      His father, Dr. Edmund Israel Woodbury, arrived in Council Bluffs on July 1, 1859.  He was at that time the only dentist all the way west until Denver and all the way north to the North Pole. The elder Dr. Woodbury made his own gas to anesthetize patients.  It was the original “laughing gas” and had about the same effect as bonded whisky.

     In those early days there were few dental schools and most dentists had to pick up their trade in an apprenticeship with an established practitioner.  Omaha’s first dentist was a minister.

     Out of a meeting of the Iowa and Nebraska state dental societies in May, 1894, came a proposal to establish a dental department in the University of Omaha.  This was done the following year.  A private school, associated loosely with Cotner University, was founded in Lincoln in 1898.  In 1904 the school became linked with the University of Nebraska, which assumed full control 15 years later.  In 1905 Creighton University opened its own school, assuming the function of another privately run center.  The next year the dental department at the University of Omaha was closed.

      Young Dr. Woodbury joined his father in practice when he was 21.  The two worked in a one-story building at Pearl Street and First Avenue, later occupied by the Chieftain Hotel.  The first gold crown in Iowa was made in their office by a visiting Chicago surgeon.

      While the younger Dr. Woodbury did not originate the technique, his ardent teaching of the gold foil method spread its usage throughout the country.  He lectured and conducted clinics in nearly every state.  He organized the first Woodbury Gold Foil Study Club (named after his father who died in 1913).  Dr. Woodbury capped his writing career with his long-titled, “The Making of Filling for Cavities in the Proximal Surfaces of the Front Teeth with Gold Foil.”   His study clubs spread throughout the country.  He helped organize the American College of Dentists.

     In 1927 a testimonial dinner was held in Omaha for Dr. Woodbury.  Five hundred dentists throughout the country attended.  A leader in the profession flatly called the Council Bluffs man the “greatest man in dentistry today.”

      After his retirement in the summer of 1950, Dr. Woodbury moved to Alhambra, California, but the stay was short.  He returned to Iowa, bought a home in Shenandoah and died in 1952.


Creighton University's Boyne School of Dental Science is named for a Council Bluffs dentist. Click here for the story.