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Military Dentistry

2021 marks 100 years since the formation of the Royal Army Dental Corps. Over these 100 years the Corps has had an enormously varied history, contributing to the operational effectiveness and health of the Army both in peace and at war.

The BDA was integral to campaigning for the provision of dental services for the army from the 1880s onwards, but the authorities were slow to recognise the need for organised and specialised dental services.

 

George Cunningham

George Cunningham

George Cunningham delivered his seminal paper 'Dentistry and its relation to the state' at the Annual Conference of the BDA in 1886. 

 

He exposed the appalling high incidence of dental disease among recruits and the inadequacy of the training of medical officers to provide dental treatment. 

 

He criticised the regulation equipment provided by the Army Medical Department stating 'a mouth mirror for examining the teeth, a probe for exploring cavities and a pair of tweezers or pliers for the application of dressings, surely the first 3 essentials of the simplest dental equipment, but are conspicuous by their absence'.

 

 

Newland Pedley

Newland Pedley in his surgery

At the outset of the South African war in 1899 no provision was made for the dental treatment of the force in the field.

 

Mr Newland Pedley on the staff of Guy's Hospital went out in February 1900 for six months as honorary dental surgeon with the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital, Deelfontein, and he was the first dentist to treat the soldier in war.

 

'Disease, neglect, tough beef and hard biscuit play havoc with the teeth

 

Nothing is done to preserve the soldier's teeth whilst he has any, and when they are gone, he must go home as a man unfit for service.'

 

N Pedley report from the BDJ March - August 1900.

 

 

First World War

A first world war army dentist and patient in a field tentAt the start of the First World War in 1914 dental treatment for the soldier was negligible. No provision whatever had been made for treatment in the field and no dental officer accompanied the expeditionary force to France. 

 

In October 1914 during the Battle of the Aisne, Sir Douglas Haig was stricken with toothache. No dentist was available and this incident triggered the first dentists to be sent to France. By December 1914 there were 20 dentists operating on the western front.  

 

The Army Dental Corps

In March 1919 the BDA again put forward a proposal for the formation of a permanent dental service for the army. These events recognised the need for an organised and equipped dental establishment to support the soldier throughout his career. The Army Dental Corps was founded on 4th January 1921.