The New Zealand Dental Services
The first examinations were carried out by civilian dentists as members of medical boards using a special form (NZ War 360) on which to record the result. The dental condition was recorded on this form but the amount of treatment was more especially page 104 assessed as to whether the recruit could qualify, under the limited standard of dental health, for entry into the forces at all. When, however, the Dental Corps accepted full responsibility for the treatment of all mobilised forces, this form was abolished and Form NZ361 was used for the Army and the Navy. The Air Force, whose dental service was the last to start, first used the standard RAF Form 48, which was a combined medical and dental history sheet. There was, however, so much confusion and waste of time in the necessary exchange of these forms backwards and forwards between the medical and dental officers, that a separate dental history sheet, Form AF129, identical with Form 361, was adopted in September 1940.
It was important that there should be a standard method of recording the results of examinations in the three services so that they would be intelligible to every officer of the Corps, so not only were the same forms used but the same symbolism was used. There is room for criticism of the symbolism adopted in New Zealand, and this took active form in the adoption of a different system in the Middle East, but the New Zealand system had the merit of being identical with that in use by the majority of dentists in the country and, if not perfect for use in a field force, was easily understood and a convenient basic standard.
The instructions were that all ranks must be examined within forty-eight hours of entering camp. It was considered that one dental officer with an orderly, assisted by a clerk or the NCO in charge of the party, could examine on an average thirty men an hour. This may appear excessive and, without a full knowledge of the circumstances, the criticism that the examination must have been perfunctory is reasonable. It must be borne in mind that the figure is an average and that many of the men were wearing full artificial dentures and did not take long to examine. The cases that took the longest were those with good natural dentitions, when it was important that no lesion should be missed before accepting the responsibility of signing the patient as dentally fit. For those men who had some treatment to be done, it was more important to find out the approximate amount of work required to a reasonable degree of accuracy than to delay the beginning of treatment for the whole force by attempting to diagnose the more obscure cavities. When that man returned for treatment the occasional cavity that had been missed would be found. A completely accurate diagnosis in any case is impossible without the use of X-rays, and it would be difficult to use these at the time of examination of a large body of troops. In practice the examinations were extremely accurate.
If it could be certain that once a man was in camp he would stay there until his treatment was completed, the system outlined above would be reasonably satisfactory. Unfortunately this was not page 105 so and, although theoretically his Form 361 accompanied him on his personal file wherever he moved, in practice this was not the case. Forms had a habit of going astray for many reasons. Sometimes routine orders were inaccurate or late in publishing details of movements. Sometimes the dental clerical staff, who were more often than not trying to handle business details beyond their capacity, failed to take the necessary action. Often there appeared to be a lack of co-ordination between units and a failure to appreciate that movement of personnel affected a large number of organisations. In this respect the Dental Corps had to fight hard for a place on the distribution list of important memoranda which vitally affected it, and this added considerably to its difficulties. As the war progressed the position improved, but in the early stages it was not appreciated how many apparently remote instructions had an effect on the organisation of dental treatment.
Whatever the reasons, Form 361 was often late in accompanying the personal file, which usually meant that a diligent dental officer carried out his instructions and made out a new one, with the result that the records of examinations and treatments were spread over several forms. Even if this was not the case, the original record of examination was subjected to the risk of loss or damage by being continuously handled and transferred from place to place.