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The New Zealand Dental Services

The First Mobile Dental Section

page 158

The First Mobile Dental Section

In May 1940 the DDS decided to form and train a Divisional Mobile Dental Section for use in the Middle East, based on experience in the 1914–18 War. Although there were certain modifications in personnel and equipment before the section was sent overseas with the Third Echelon, his original notes explain his intentions:

The unit has an establishment of 8 officers and 36 other ranks.

In the Field the main function of the NZDC is to maintain the dental health of the soldier and the orthodox establishment of one section attached to a Field Ambulance cannot cope with the work, especially as in any Force we are likely to raise for an expeditionary force, there will be, at a low estimate, 50% of artificial dentures worn. Knowing that in front line troops the fear complex will always exist, that dentures are readily broken and as easily lost, and that dental pain weakens a soldier's morale, it is acknowledged that there is a wide field for malingering, also that a soldier wearing an artificial denture is a potential casualty unless some provision is made to provide dental service as close as possible to the line. Experience has proved that once a soldier was evacuated from the fighting zone for dental defects, it was problematical when his company commander would see him again. In the last war the solution was the NZ Divisional Dental Hospital which was almost continually located in the Divisional Headquarters area with its surgical sub-sections detached to various unit headquarters and diverting the denture work back to the Main Hospital Group. Dental pain was eliminated, dentures replaced and repaired in a few hours whilst the soldier was kept on the strength of his unit.

The unit is self-contained, carrying its own reserve stock of materials and water, a fully equipped surgical and prosthetic dental outfit, tent operating and ridge tents, operating its own motive power, light and a Bottled Gas installation for heat in connection with prosthetic work. It accommodates five dental mechanics and two mechanics' orderlies. Two officers carry out their duties in tents which are pitched alongside the lorry—tent (operating) being available and as accommodation for troops under treatment. The remaining officers with a surgical pannier and chair case are attached to various unit headquarters and work in tents.

With its mobility, the personnel and plant are ready at all times to be utilised for any class of dental work and can be attached temporarily to any unit of the Force close up to their war stations, including the Non-Divisional units. It can augment the personnel of the Field Ambulance Section if necessary and the two in conjunction should assist materially in maintaining the rifle strength of the line.