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The History of the Medical Department in the World War

AMEDD Corps History > U.S. Army Dental Corps 

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THE HISTORY OF THE MEDICAL DEPARTMENT IN THE WORLD WAR

VOLUME I

THE SURGEON GENERAL’S OFFICE

CHAPTER IV

DENTAL DIVISION

Prior to the World War the affairs of the Dental Corps were administered as part of the routine work of the Personnel Division. On August 9, 1917, the Dental Section of this division was organized with the assignment of a medical officer to duty in this connection.1 The Dental Section became the Dental Division on November 24, 1919.2

Much of the preliminary work in the expansion of the Dental Corps, including the development of the Dental Reserve Corps, was accomplished by members of the Dental Committee, General Medical Board, Council of National Defense, in cooperation with the dental profession of the country, through the officers and membership of the National Dental Association.

On April 6, 1917, the United States Army had 86 dental officers, 18 of whom were captains and 68 first lieutenants.3 Although dental officers were permitted to advance to the grade of major, this was possible only after such officers had had a record of 24 years of service, and then the number was limited to eight, regardless of how many had served the required period. Legislation existed at the time permitting the creation of a Dental Reserve Corps, yet no steps had been taken to organize such a corps. Although officers of most branches of the military service customarily received special military, technical, and professional training immediately upon entrance into the Army, this opportunity had never been granted to members of the Dental Corps prior to the declaration of war. While many dentists were eager to enter the Dental Reserve Corps, the early plan pursued made it necessary for an applicant to forward his request to the Surgeon General’s Office. The formal application was then furnished, and the applicant was advised when the next meeting of the examining board would be held in his own or an adjoining State, with the result that many days or weeks would elapse from the time when the original request was submitted by the applicant to the time when the completed papers arrived in the Surgeon General’s Office for final decision. To prevent this delay, if possible, the chairman of the committee on enrollment and legislation of the Dental Committee, Council of National Defense, on May 28, 1917, submitted to the Surgeon General a plan whereby the chairman was permitted to select representative men of the dental profession who were well qualified, by educa­tion and experience, to give professional examinations to applicants desiring to be commissioned in the Dental Reserve Corps.4 This method, although most unusual, was accepted by the Surgeon General. The men so selected and approved by the Surgeon General as preliminary dental examiners were the deans of recognized dental schools, the secretary of each State dental examining board, and such dentists, in addition, as the service demanded.

The dental service of the United States Army was the only arm of the military organization that was built up through the aid of preliminary examiners. All examiners gave liberally and gratuitously of their time to this end.

And with such promptitude that, although but five Reserve Corps officers had been commissioned in the first two months of the war, by September 18, 1917, or three and one-half months later, all examinations were discontinued, inasmuch as the War Department had enough commissioned dental officers, actual or prospective, to meet the needs of an army of 5,000,000 men.

The War Department granted an increase of from one to two per thousand in the quota of dental officers.5 The object of this was to provide between 9,000 and 10,000 dental officers for the prospective Army of 5,000,000 which the Nation was to have in the field by July 1, 1919. Efforts had been made to secure this increase ever since dentists had sought entrance into the United States Army, but without avail. This happy result was attained partly through the representations of the Preparedness League of American Dentists, partly through the efforts of the civilian dentists who had assisted in making the selective service men fit with respect to their teeth prior to induction into military service, but mainly, because the need for more dental officers had been demonstrated.

The authorization for the assignment of two dental officers per thousand was secured on September 30, 1918,6 and on October 3 authorization was granted to enlisted dentists in every camp in this country and abroad to complete application for commission.7 A few days later, authorization was granted to those dentists who had been placed in Class I-A by their local boards to complete applications for commission in the Dental Corps.8 Between October 3 and November 11, 1918, 1,500 applications were completed and forwarded to the Surgeon General’s Office, and between 800 and 900 of these had been acted upon by the Surgeon General and recommended to the Adjutant General for commission.9 Of these only about 100 were granted commissions. Because of the signing of the armistice, an increased number of dental officers was not needed, as there was a reserve of 1,500 still unassigned.

On November 11, 1918, from 86 dental officers on duty at the beginning of the war, we had attained, in round numbers, about 5,000, of whom 3,000 were in this country and a little less than 2,000 abroad.10 At all camps and cantonments in this country two dentists per thousand were at work in specially constructed dental infirmaries, which accommodated from 20 to 30 dental equipments, composed of the usual base chair, fountain cuspidor, electrically heated spray outfit, complete laboratory equipment, a splendid radiographic outfit, and a dark room for developing films—a more complete equipment than was possessed by many prosperous civilian dental practitioners. The dental officers abroad had but few base equipments and, in the main, had to rely upon the field equipment, as the question of weight and space had to be considered in shipping equipment overseas.

For a comprehensive understanding of dental work accomplished by the date of the signing the armistice consideration may be given to: (1) Early courses in special instruction; (2) free dental service; (3) educational activities instituted for the purpose of making dental officers more efficient immediately upon entering service; (4) the inclusion of dental officers in the Subsection of Plastic and Oral Surgery of the Section of Surgery of the Head; (5) the beneficial influence resulting from the legal enactment that gave advanced rank to dental officers, and similar treatment of dental students by law, as previously allowed medical students by regulation as a result of an order issued by the Provost Marshal General.

In May and June, 1917, a majority of the dental schools of this country instituted gratuitous courses of special instruction for applicants desiring to enroll in the Dental Reserve Corps. The course was approved by the Surgeon General, and was of such a nature as to fit those in attendance to be better officers in field and hospital service. Between 4,000 and 5,000 dentists attended these courses without expense to themselves or to the Government.

On August 18, 1917, upon request of the Surgeon General, permission was sought from the Provost Marshal General to secure franking privileges for the Preparedness League of American Dentists, and his concurrence in a plan by which all men who had been accepted for general military service would be advised to appear before the members of that organization to have any urgently needed dental operations performed prior to their arrival in camp, without expense to themselves or the Government.11 This work was considered imperative at the time for the reason that only one dentist was assigned per thousand of the total strength of the Army and also because manufacturers of dental supplies were unable to meet the excessive demands of the Army upon them in the early days of the war.

Following the Medical Department’s approval, a Dental Reserve Corps officer was assigned to the Preparedness League headquarters in New York, and, in cooperation with the officers of that organization, obtained splendid results in organizing this service. The membership of this organization consisted of 1,700 civilian dentists. They furnished the material and performed about 1,000,000 gratuitous operations for men selected for the military service. Through their activities three dental motorcar ambulances were pre­sented to the Government.13

On October 15, 1917, by authority of the Surgeon General, and under the direction of the Subsection of Plastic and Oral Surgery of the Section of Head Surgery, courses of instruction were instituted at Washington University Dental School, St. Louis; Northwestern University Dental School, Chicago; and the Thomas W. Evans Museum and Dental Institute School of Dentistry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, where medical and dental officers were detailed for instruction.14 The medical officers were given special courses in plastic surgery, blood transfusion, and bone transplantation. The dental officers were given special instructions in bone fragment fixation by intraoral splints, the systemic effect of focal infections, and the surgical anatomy of the face, jaws, and neck. These courses were discontinued in March, 1918.

On March 15, 1918, in connection with the Medical Officers’ Training Camp, a school for Army dental officers was instituted at Camp Greenleaf, Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., for military and professional instruction of dental officers and their authorized dental assistants.15 When the armistice was signed, about 1,200 dentists were receiving either military or professional training in this school. The duration of the general course of instruction for the dental officer was two months. The first month was given over to 180 hours of general military training, the second to 70 hours of special military training, and 110 hours were devoted to professional subjects having a definite relation to general dental practice as it should be conducted in the Army. Each class consisted of from 80 to 100 members, and a small percentage was retained for training to qualify them for assignment as division dental surgeons. In this camp, dentists received training well suited to their physical and professional efficiency. During the war this was the only country giving such extensive special training in military and professional subjects to dental officers and their authorized enlisted assistants.

On July 9, 1917, the Surgeon General approved of the organization of the Division of Surgery of the Head, which, among other duties, was charged with the building up of a personnel specially qualified to care for diseases and injuries of the brain, eye, ear, nose and throat, face, and jaws.16 The commissioned personnel of this division consisted of one specialist each in brain surgery, ophthalmology, and otolaryngology, one plastic or oral surgeon, and one dental oral surgeon competent to care for the fractures, impactions, and diseases to which the teeth and jaws are subject. It was believed that by including dentists in the organization of the Division of Head Surgery better service could be rendered to soldiers who had sustained injuries of the face and jaws than could possibly have resulted had these cases been handled without the assistance of dental officers. In addition, a splendid opportunity was given members of this profession to increase their ability and knowledge of the surgical principles involved in the management of these surgical lesions.

The act of October 6, 1917,17 allotted to the Dental Corps the same grades and percentages in grades as was allowed by law for the Medical Corps of the Army. An amendment was attached to this bill which specified that “all regulations concerning the enlistment of medical students in the Enlisted Reserve Corps (q. v.) and their continuance in their college courses, while subject to call to active service, shall apply similarly to dental students.”

Chart V shows the organizations of the work connected with the Dental Corps, while it still formed a section of the Division of Commissioned Personnel.

PERSONNEL.a

(April, 1917, to December, 1919.)

Logan, William H. G., Col., M. C., chief.

Laflamme, F. L. K., Col., D. C., chief.

Oliver, Robert T., Col., D. C., chief.

Bernheim, J. R., Col., D. C.

Ames, J. R., Lieut. Col., D. C.

Harper, J. P., Maj., D. C.

King, J. C., Maj., D. C.

Mitchell, L. G., Maj., D. C.

Richardson, Walter H., Maj., D. C.

Vignes, C. V., Maj., D. C.

Doyle, J. F., Capt., S. C.

Kennebeck, G. R., Capt., D. C.

Schaefer, J. E., Capt., D. C.

Vail, W. D., Capt., D. C.

________

 

a. In this list have been included the names of those who at one time or another were assigned to the division during the period April 6, 1917, to December 31, 1919.

There are two primary groups—the chiefs of the division and the assistants. In each group names have been arranged alphabetically, by grades, irrespective of chronological sequence of service.

 

Chart V.—Dental Division, Surgeon General’s Office, June 1918.

 

 

 

REFERENCES.

 

(1)        S. O., No. 184, par. 25, W. D., August 9, 1917.

(2)        Office order, S. G. O., No. 1145, November 24, 1919.

(3)        Service cards, United States Army, dental officers. On file, Commissioned Personnel Division, S. G. O.

(4)        Report of the Committee on Dentistry, Council of National Defense. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 156772 (Old Files).

(5)        Correspondence. Subject: Dental Corps. Letter, Surgeon General to The Adjutant General, August 22, 1918; second indorsement, W. D., A. G. O., September 30, 1918. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., Mail and Record Division, A. G. O., 322.33.

(6)        Second indorsement, W. D., A. G. O., to Surgeon General of the Army, September 30, 1918. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 322.3 (Dental Corps).

(7)        Second indorsement, W. D., S. G. O., to The Adjutant General, October 22, 1918. On file, Record Room, 211 (Dentists).

(8)        Individual applications for commission in Dental Corps. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 201 (Officer’s name).

(9)        Daily reports, October and November, 1918; Recommendations made by Commissioned Personnel Division to The Adjutant General. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., Weekly Report File.

(10)      Statistical report, November 16, 1918. Commissioned Personnel Division. On file, Record, Room, S. G. O., Weekly Report File.

(11)      Correspondence. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 154009 (Old Files).

(12)      Correspondence. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 703 (Dental Treatment).

(13)      Annual Report of the Surgeon General, United States Army, 1918, 413.

(14)      Ibid., 414.

(15)      Reports of School for Training Officers of the Dental Corps. On file, Dental Division, S. G. O., 354.1 (Instruction, Dental Corps), Fort Oglethorpe (C).

(16)      Résumé of Activities of the Division of Surgery of the Head. On file, Record Room, S. G. O., 024 (Division of Surgery of the Head).

(17)      Bull., No. 61, W. D., Par. V, October 23, 1917.