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The New Zealand Dental Services


WHEN the New Zealand Dental Corps assumed the responsibility for treatment of the armed forces in the Dominion and overseas, one of the first considerations was the provision of suitable accommodation. The use of tents or converted huts was only excusable under field conditions or when time precluded the building of permanent hospitals. Costly, delicate and complicated equipment is used in the practice of dentistry, and this has to be suitably housed and readily available if treatment is to be of the high standard the forces have a right to expect. In addition to this, there is a considerable strain on an operator working long hours in an exacting profession which demands the best conditions to produce the best results. Suitable hospitals, however, cost money, and enough has been said of the official reluctance at the beginning of the war to recognise the value of the Dental Corps in the general scheme of things, to show that getting authority for the necessary expenditure was not easy. Eventually, good hospitals were built in every permanent camp or station.

An example of tented accommodation in the early part of the war was when the Maori Battalion was in the Manawatu Agricultural and Pastoral Association's showground at Palmerston North. Major L. P. Davies, OBE,1 ADDS of the Central Military District, reported on 14 March 1940:

The dental staff comprised the Principal Dental Officer and four other dental officers, one administrative sergeant, four dental orderlies, three mechanics and one mechanic's orderly. I found the dental quarters to comprise one large marquee and one bell tent.


The marquee was approximately 15' × 30' and here the mechanical work, office work and surgical work were carried out…. There was a duck-board flooring in the mechanical portion but in the surgical part there was no flooring at all…. Conditions were not altogether favourable in wet and rough weather. There was an electric light above each chair and also in the mechanical room and the lighting conditions generally were as satisfactory as could be expected under the circumstances. Electric power was used for an electric vulcaniser and for electric engines. Primuses were used for other heating requirements.

On questioning the PDO I found that the dental plant, including the electric plant, stood up to the weather very well.

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Drainage was … by means of a septic tank. Water was laid on and facilities for washing were provided by means of canvas basins. I might also state that space was provided in the marquee for sleeping one member of the staff to act as caretaker.


The bell tent accommodated one officer and one orderly. I found here a close wooden flooring with no provision for lighting or drainage. As this was only a make-shift tent it answered the purpose for which it was intended….

It must have been difficult to maintain reasonable asepsis under these conditions, and even more difficult to impress the patients that the standard of service received was not in some measure commensurate with the surroundings.

Dental hospitals, whether large as in a mobilisation camp where up to nineteen officers were operating, or small as for a single section, have certain essential requirements, and all are constructed on the same principles. A study of these essentials will give some idea of the general layout of all dental hospitals without the need for describing the details of the many different designs, although it must not be forgotten that the numerous designs were the result of much thought and effort by Dental Headquarters and the Public Works Department.

In general, the building had to be so situated as to be easily accessible to the patients. It had to be orientated to provide the best operating light, big enough to accommodate staff and patients, yet small enough to allow hospital cleanliness to be observed. It had to have water, electricity, sewerage, gas, compressed air and heating, as well as having specialised apparatus installed and suitable fittings designed and constructed. There had to be a surgery, office, workroom, waiting room and lavatory. In the case of the larger hospitals, a store, X-ray room, darkroom, and a room for extractions and oral surgery had to be provided.