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The New Zealand Dental Services

W aiting Room

W aiting Room

In the bigger hospitals a room some 18 ft square with benches round the walls was provided, and in the smaller ones a tent was usually used. The first sight to greet a patient in any NZDC hospital was a notice reading:

All ranks must parade with their toothbrushes and clean their teeth thoroughly before dental examination or treatment.

page 102

In most cases a sink was supplied for this purpose, but when there was no sink or running water, a field oral hygiene outfit and soakage pit were used. This was a metal tank of about 2 ft cube, containing water and standing on a wooden platform 3 ft 6 in. high. A rubber tube fitted with a clip came from the tank and rested when not in use in a jar of antiseptic attached to the stand. Alongside the outfit a hole was dug in the ground and filled with stones to form a soakage pit. To use it one wet the toothbrush by removing the tube from the antiseptic and pressing the clip. The teeth were then cleaned over the soakage pit, the tube being replaced in the antiseptic.

This, while obviously not as satisfactory as a sink with running water and proper sewerage, was a distinct advance on what existed in the 1914–18 War, and which continued through the Territorial interlude and even made an appearance in this war. To quote a memorandum to all dental officers dated 22 December 1939:

Where sinks and other facilities are not provided, Principal Dental Officers will take steps to have two buckets branded ‘Clean Water’ and ‘Waste’ respectively, placed on a bench two feet high in a prominent position at the entrance to the clinic, preferably inside the building, with a mug and a receptacle for common salt.

This was known as an oral hygiene bench, a name which expresses the meritorious intention but not the complete failure of its activities. Far from promoting oral hygiene, it was a menace to health and an encouragement to the spread of infection. The buckets were unprotected from dust and flies. Patients were puzzled by the whole outfit and sometimes mistook the clean bucket for the waste, and even if they correctly carried out the instructions, the water and mug were contaminated by the first user. The outfit has long since been discarded and it is inconceivable that enlightened knowledge of health will tolerate its resurrection.

From this general description it should be possible to visualise the conditions under which the NZDC worked in the various camps in New Zealand. Good, well-equipped hospitals built of wood, painted in many cases with camouflage, the interior polished and shining, a setting to impress the patient that this was no temporary service, no rough and ready tooth carpentry, but dentistry equal to that he received from the dentist of his choice before he joined the forces.