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The New Zealand Dental Services

CHAPTER 20 — A Year in Isolation

page 238

A Year in Isolation

IT is convenient at this stage to look back on the year 1942 as a valuable statistical year. During 1942 the 2 NZEF received no reinforcements from New Zealand so there is an opportunity of observing the effects of organised and systematic treatment on a large section of New Zealanders, of one particular age group, living on practically the same diet and under the same conditions. To all intents and purposes they were shut off from outside influences; there was no influx of men from a different environment and the composition of the group remained constant.

The dental returns, for New Zealand troops only, from 1 January to 31 December 1942 are as follows:

Number of men examined 66,450
Number of men requiring treatment 38,142
Number of men rendered dentally fit 36,382
Number of fillings inserted 43,096
Number of extractions 4,943
Number of artificial dentures, new or remodelled 5,961
Number of repairs to artificial dentures 6,654
Total denture cases 12,615

It is estimated that the average strength of the 2 NZEF during the year was approximately 30,000. On 1 January 1942 these men were virtually dentally fit, so that for the following twelve months the task was only to maintain that fitness. On the surface this would not seem to amount to much, yet it involved the large amount of treatment shown in the above returns. It meant the employment of dental officers on the basis of one to every 1000 men. It also meant that, except for periods of broken time because of military operations, every dental officer was fully occupied throughout the year and could not relax his efforts for one moment.

Of the 30,000 men of the force, 7000 is a fair estimate of those without any natural teeth, i.e., wearing full upper and lower dentures. The incidence and development of dental caries was such, therefore, that 43,000 fillings were needed for 23,000 men, or about 1·87 fillings per man per year.

page 239

It was estimated that on 1 January 1942 there were between 20,000 and 25,000 artificial dentures being worn in the force, every man in need of a denture being in possession of one. Yet, in order to maintain a state of dental fitness it was necessary to repair, remodel or replace 12,000 of these during the year. Apart from anything else, this was a huge task and emphasises that every effort should be made, in New Zealand, in the community as a whole and in any armed force, to retain the natural teeth and keep the supply of artificial dentures to a minimum.

The small number of teeth extracted as compared with the number of fillings inserted, viz., 11 in every 100, can be regarded as a tribute to the quantity and quality of conservative treatment the men had had and were having at the hands of the NZDC.

As far as the figures show, the whole force was examined twice during the year and, with the exception of 1700 (who were under treatment at the end of the period), all were made dentally fit. There were probably some who missed examination altogether, some who were examined and treated only once and others who were examined and treated three or four times. Unless the number of men examined is about three times the number of men in the force, it is unlikely that every man would be accounted for. In any case, it is a question whether this ideal is worthy of attainment as there is a limit to the amount of time which should be given to parading at dental units. The main thing is that at 1 January 1943 the force was dentally fit to a degree not previously known among New Zealanders and, above all, was dentally fit for war purposes, which was what mattered most.

One very significant fact comes from a study of this year's activities and that is that organised and systematic treatment of a group does make an impression on the volume of maintenance work to be expected in the future. The denture problem is probably reasonably static in the New Zealand Armed Forces, but the incidence of caries can be and was reduced during 1942. This is shown by the following figures:

Percentage of Those Examined in Need of Treatment
1st Quarter 2nd Quarter 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter
Per cent Per cent Per cent Per cent
60 58 55 45