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The New Zealand Dental Services

2. The Methods by which Dental Fitness was Established

2. The Methods by which Dental Fitness was Established

During the pre-war months of 1939, when general mobilisation was expected, the DDS made detailed arrangements for dental examination and charting of recruits. This was to be done by civilian dentists appointed as members of medical examining boards in the various districts. Careful consideration was given to the method of charting to be used and a Form NZ 360 (Record of Dental Examination), together with instructions to examining dentists, was prepared. The Assistant Directors of Dental Services, who had been appointed to the three Military Districts, prepared lists of dentists to serve on these boards and tested the organisation by the examination of recruits to fill the increased establishment of the Territorial Force. The result was that at the outbreak of war, many dentists were familiar with the routine and the scheme was ready for immediate adoption. As will be seen later, there were imperfections in the scheme but it was a good start and, in the absence of other than a skeleton Territorial Dental Corps, the only practical solution.

A plan had also been prepared and authorised whereby civilian dentists would do the limited amount of treatment at a stated scale of fees.

On 6 September 1939, three days after the declaration of war, Cabinet authorised the mobilisation of a Special Force of 6600 men to serve within or beyond New Zealand. Volunteers for this force, ultimately to become the First Echelon of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF), were immediately dentally examined according to plan. Within two weeks, the results showed that the number falling into dental category ‘F’ was so low that too many otherwise medically fit men were being rejected for dental reasons. The standard for acceptance was then lowered by including in category ‘F’ those whose treatment to make them dentally fit would take six instead of three hours. Even then, many men who were medically fit were rejected because of dental defects. The added burden thrown on the shoulders of the civilian dentists by this change of standard and the rejection of valuable manpower gave page break page 19 impetus to the Army's programme for the construction of dental hospitals in the mobilisation camps and the formation of a Corps capable of undertaking full treatment of all troops.

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The aim of the New Zealand Dental Corps was to send every overseas contingent away from New Zealand as nearly dentally fit as possible. This was stated in the 1914–18 War but was achieved only in the later stages of that war. In this war the plan of dental selection of recruits and their immediate treatment made it effective from the beginning. It was never more than a makeshift plan calculated to implement the NZDC policy and give the necessary breathing space for the mobilisation of the NZDC on a war basis. It was, however, a distinct advance on the position existing in 1914.