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Percy Raymond Begg was a brilliant orthodontist who discovered a unique method of moving teeth. He provided many thousands of children and adults with amazing corrections of their dental and facial deformities and these benefits continue to be experienced by patients all over the world because of Begg’s willingness to share his knowledge.

He was born in a tent in the goldfields of Coolgardie, Western Australia, on 13th October 1898, the son of accountant and business manager Percy William Begg and his wife Fannie Elizabeth (née Jacob). In 1900 the family moved to Adelaide and Begg attended Pulteney Grammar School and St. Peter’s College where he was a classmate of Nobel Prize winner, Howard Florey. In 1923 he received his Bachelor of Dental Science from the University of Melbourne and then spent two years at the Angle School of Orthodontia in Pasadena, California, under Dr. Edward Angle, who is remembered as the father of modern orthodontia.

Returning to Australia, Begg began orthodontic practice in the Verco Building, North Terrace, Adelaide, moving later to the Shell Building. He was the only orthodontist in Adelaide until 1951. In January 1926 he began teaching orthodontics, simultaneously holding the positions of Honorary Dental Surgeon at the Adelaide Hospital and Lecturer in orthodontics at the University of Adelaide. On 26th April 1928 he married Evelyn Ellen (Nellie) Hamilton and they had three children.

Begg faithfully followed the high orthodontic ideals that he was taught in America but in 1928 he broke with established tradition and became the first orthodontist to extract selected teeth to correct dental crowding. Early opposition by some dentists gradually relented as his results were seen to stand the test of time. The problems encountered with previous techniques to close extraction spaces prompted the introduction of the Begg technique of orthodontic treatment, which used new styles of brackets, special stainless steel wire, light forces and three well-organized stages of treatment --- all part of what he described as the Light-wire Differential Force method. Today, there are many techniques of orthodontic treatment yet most include aspects of the Begg philosophy and versions of his appliances.

Begg also worked with anthropology researchers at the University of Adelaide, studying the skulls of Aborigines to determine how their natural gritty diet had affected their teeth. In 1935 a Doctorate of Dental Science from the University of Adelaide was conferred on him and in 1949 he became Honorary Consultant Dental Surgeon to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

The list of papers published by Dr. Begg is impressive and reflects the tremendous amount of work he put into basic research and clinical experimentation. He presented orthodontic courses in Australia and America and lectured in many other countries from 1964 until his retirement in 1980. In 1977 he received the Albert H. Ketcham Award, the highest award given by the American Board of Orthodontics and the American Association of Orthodontists, for his outstanding contributions to orthodontic science. In 1965 he was the co-author of a textbook entitled Begg Orthodontic Theory and Technique and in 1981 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Percy Begg’s passion for orthodontics --- teaching, talking, inventing and improving --- continued until his last days. He always shared his ideas and he registered a new patent just one month before his death on 18th January 1983. He was cremated and his ashes interred at Centennial Park. There is a permanent display dealing with the Begg technique in the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, U.S.A. The Adelaide Dental Hospital on Frome Road is the site of the Begg Memorial, an exhibition of his surgery equipment, appliances and patient records.

By Dr John Jenner

This entry was first published is S.A.’s Greats: The men and women of the North Terrace plaques, edited by John Healey (Adelaide: Historical Society of South Australia Inc., 2001).

Uploaded 30 September 2014

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Image: A schematic showing multiple views of a patent for an ‘Orthodontic Band Clamp’ invented by P.R. Begg
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