Famous Dentists & Orthodontists: Doc Holliday

famous dentist

Did you know that Doc Holliday was also a famous dentist? Doc Holliday was an American historical figure who was recognized as a gamble and gunfighter- so it can be surprising to learn that he was a reputable dentist as well.

While he did not get the chance to contribute to advancing orthodontic treatment, his life is still interesting and fun for many people to learn about.

Interested in learning more, then be sure to keep reading! This is the background of the dentist Doc Holliday.

Who Was He?

John Henry “Doc” Holliday was born on August 14, 1851. He was known for being a close friend of Wyatt Earp, who was also a gambler. Holliday is most widely known for his role in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Today, there are rumors that he killed at least 12 men throughout his life. However, historians have stated that this is only a myth and that they believe he took the life of 1-3 men instead.

Holliday has been portrayed in a wide variety of books, movies, and TV shows. But who exactly was he and how did he become so popular?

Setting Up his Practice

When he was 21, Doc Holliday completed his dental program and received a degree in dentistry from the PA College of Dental Surgery. He relocated to Missouri where he worked as a dental assistant to one of his former classmates. Four months later, he decided to set up his practice in Georgia but was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

He was exposed to the disease while caring for his mother. Sadly, tuberculosis would claim her life. Holliday became worried about his chances of survival and decided that he should move west, believing that the climate would help treat his sickness.

He traveled to Arizona and became a gambler, which was a common way to make money at that time.

Meeting Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was a lawman who had forced two cowboys to flee from the town. They would return with more armed men and shoot up the town of Dodge where Doc Holliday was staying. They vandalized a saloon, causing a lot of damage before Earp found them.

The story goes that the cowboys pointed their guns at Earp, threatening to take his life. At this time Holliday was playing cards in the saloon and drew his weapon, forcing the men to leave the saloon.

While there are a few different versions of this story, Holliday did somehow save Earp’s life that day in the saloon. The two quickly became friends, which would later lead to Holliday becoming involved at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

The Famous Gunfight

Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp’s brother, was a city police chief where Holliday was living. He was alerted that a group of outlaws were armed and refused to give up their weapons when they returned to town. Virgil deputized Holliday for the day so he could help the Earps catch the outlaws.

They found them in an alleyway, right beside the boarding house where Holliday was staying. Thinking that they had come to kill him, he fired a shot- leading to the famous gunfight.

After this, a hearing was held to determine if Holliday and the Earps were right in starting the fight. The court decided that they were only acting as lawmen and no charges were pressed.

After the fight, the remaining cowboys held a vendetta against Holliday and the Earps. This would lead to even more gunfights, the death of one of Wyatt Earp’s brothers, and a warrant for Holliday’s arrest in Arizona. He decided to move and was not able to return after he left.

End of Life

After that, Holliday traveled to Colorado, which was not a good choice for his tuberculosis. While there, he tried taking a bath in a famous hot spring, hoping it would help with his symptoms.

However, the air from the springs contained sulfur- further damaging his lungs. His wife and nurses attended to him in his final hours. Holliday’s last words were, “This is funny.”, as he always thought that he would die “with his boots on”.

This meant that he thought he would die in a gunfight, instead of laying in a bed with his shoes off. He had asked a nurse for alcohol and passed away shortly after drinking it.

Doc Holliday’s Legacy

Doc Holliday is an extremely recognizable figure in American Wild West stories. He is often portrayed as being very loyal to Wyatt Earp, even creating a standard for sidekick characters in the media today.

Despite being a famous dentist, Doc Holiday was known primarily as a gambler. The big shootout that he was involved in became a legend in the West, leading to it being retold in a variety of TV shows, movies, and books.

The stories surrounding this man and his friends were also the inspiration for many other frontier period themed movies that included gunfight scenes.

Doc Holliday as a Dentist

Doc Holliday worked as a dentist with Dr. John A. Seeger after graduating from college. But, when he started to become overtaken by harsh coughing fits, the patients were frightened away. This caused him to leave and seek a new job in a warmer, dryer climate- leading Holliday to become the gambler that we know today.

Holliday traveled and moved often during his life, never giving him the chance to set up a new practice. Although, there have been reports that he still did dentistry from time to time.


Doc Holliday was a famous dentist who lived an interesting life and inspired a lot of movies and shows.

If you are planning on getting orthodontic treatment, be sure to contact us. We love learning new things about the history of dentistry and enjoy sharing our knowledge with our patients!

Our orthodontic care specialists are experienced and kind- we are certain that you will have a nice time when you come to our office.