Mich. dental museum reveals meaning of '4F'

The origin of the expression "4F" -- meaning unfit for military service -- is among the mysteries revealed at the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in Ann Arbor, according to a story in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

The museum has more than 10,000 items showing the changes in dental technology from the late 1700s through the 1960s, according to the Tribune.

Part of the exhibition focuses on dentistry during the Civil War, when extraction of bad teeth was the primary procedure and was often performed by nondentists. As many men had poor teeth, a rule was established that a man must have four front incisors that matched to enable him to tear open the cardboard cartridge for his rifle, the story explained. If he did not, he was called 4F, a term that came to refer to those who did not meet the minimum standards for service.

Another section of the museum shows the development and problems of the use of dental x-rays. The dentist had to adjust the intensity of the rays by looking at the bones of his hand on the machine. Not knowing the dangers of the rays led to serious burns and early deaths from cancer, according to the story.

Museum officials are interested in donations of 19th century dental equipment and supplier catalogs dating from 1940 to 1970.

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