The New Zealand Dental Services
The Second Echelon had been treated by the NZDC in the mobilisation camps in New Zealand and could be presumed to be dentally fit, requiring little but maintenance with the exception of the denture casualties inseparable from a force of New Zealand troops. With the First Echelon, however, the position was not so satisfactory. On 10 May 1940 the ADDS reported as follows:
The dental condition of the Force in regard to tooth cavities appears to be very good, although it will be realised that in the absence of an examination of all ranks, the only gauge is the rate at which the soldiers present voluntarily either with toothache or with the subjective knowledge that cavities are present.
It is now five months since they were rendered dentally fit. It is a conservative estimate that all members of a community require examination and treatment half-yearly and with New Zealanders in particular, cavities will develop in a shorter period.
It should be assumed therefore that although soldiers are presenting voluntarily for treatment there must, in addition, be an increasing number of men with dental decay that has developed since embarkation.
The number of daily patients, either with toothache or for fillings has increased since the last report [25 March 1940].
Dentures continue to be a problem and unaccountably continue to present at the rate of 6 to 8 per day. It has not been possible to reduce a waiting list that has been present since arrival in Egypt.
The most striking difference between the mouths of the Force when in New Zealand and their condition in Egypt is the unhealthy condition of the gingival tissues (gums) and it may be stated that this feature is the most noticeable impression received by the NZDC officers in the course of their daily duties and in reference to which they feel concerned.
The percentage of men presenting with inflammation of the gingival tissues is large and on the increase. They invariably show complete neglect of the toothbrush and inattention to the principles of oral hygiene.page 146
The causative factors may be:
Inattention to oral hygiene measures, in particular, the toothbrush.
An infectious condition conveyed by drinking vessels, utensils, etc.
A general lowered resistance as a result of the sudden change in climatic conditions, environment, etc.
Whatever the cause may be it is evident that this septic condition must inevitably result in a general lowering of the resistance and increase the susceptibility towards alimentary and respiratory infections…. Cases of ulcerative stomatitis (Trench Mouth) have not developed although, as pointed out in my last report, most predisposing factors are present. If it should commence, there is every reason to expect that it would become prevalent to a marked degree.
Since my last report it has been increasingly difficult to maintain a regular attendance of patients. With the intensification of training this is, of course, unavoidable and in this respect, Brigade exercises in particular resulted in two quiet periods. Extended leave at Easter has also to be taken into account.
Captain Fuller's predictions were based on sound principles but fortunately were not substantiated, and the dental condition of the First Echelon remained remarkably good, despite the fact that a deterioration in the war situation in the Mediterranean precluded the early fulfilment of his plans.