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World War I

AMEDD Corps History > U.S. Army Dental Corps > Highlights in the History of U.S. Army Dentistry, Year 2007

World War I  (6 April 1917 – 11 November 1918)

Summer 1914     The World War began in Europe. Although the U.S. would not declare war until April 1917, concern for readiness to enter the war had a significant effect on changes in U.S. Army and U.S. Army dentistry.

March 1916     The Preparedness League of American Dentists, 1,700 civilian dentists, organized to provide free dental service for men wishing to enlist. The League also established a standard course for military training of dentists and provided study clubs for dentists who expected to enter the reserves. Dental schools cooperated by using the League course standards and by making League courses available. Between four and five thousand dentists were estimated to have completed the training. By 1918 Preparedness League dentists had provided approximately a million pro bono dental procedures to men selected for military service.

3 June 1916     Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916 that included reorganization of the Army Dental Corps. Under this act the probationary contract system was abolished, permitting immediate commissioning of dental officers as first lieutenants with advancement to captain after eight years and to major after twenty-four years of active service. The act also authorized the Army Dental Reserve Corps.

September 1916   The first Army dental training school was established at Fort Bliss, El Paso District, Texas by Captain Robert T. Oliver.  Tensions along the US / Mexican border in 1916, including raids by Pancho Villa, resulted in a dramatic deployment along the border and significant influx of both active and National Guard dental officers. This created awareness that dentists with good civilian education and experience still lacked operational field skills, military administrative knowledge, and trauma related training that are unique to military service. The Fort Bliss dental school served as a model for similar schools needed soon in World War I. (See a more complete description of Army dental education and training in May 1921 entry.)

6 April 1917     The United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I with a Dental Corps of 86 Regular officers. By 30 November 1918, the number of active duty dental officers peaked at 4,620 from the Regular Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard, with 1,864 stationed in Europe. Note: In September 1917, 891 dentists who were in the Medical Enlisted Reserve Corps were called to active duty as privates although 1,079 other reservists were allowed to wait commissioning as Dental Corps officers.

9 August 1917     Maj. William H. G. Logan, M.D., D.D.S., a Medical Corps Reserve officer, was appointed to be the chief of the newly established Dental Section, Personnel Division, of the Office of the Surgeon General, and first Chief, Army Dental Corps. As a civilian Dr. Logan had been a leader in establishing the Dental Reserve Corps in 1916. As DC Chief he significantly increased the number of Dental Reserve officers, organized maxillofacial surgical teams, and initiated dental officer basic training and an enlisted dental assistant training program at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. He was the president of the National Dental Association (1917-1918) and after his discharge on 12 February 1919 became dean of Chicago College of Dental Surgery (1920-1923) and then of Loyola University College of Dentistry (1923-1943).

20 August 1917     The first dental unit of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) landed in France with Captain Robert T. Oliver in charge. Oliver had been designated on 25 June 1917 to be Chief Dental Surgeon, AEF, by General John J. Pershing. Oliver had developed a good working relationship with Pershing in the Philippines that continued when supporting him in the Mexican border operation.   Captain Oliver assumed the dental surgeon duties on 1 September 1917.

6 October 1917     A law was passed authorizing Army Dental Corps officers the same rank, pay, promotion, and retirement rights as officers of the Medical Corps. This law also directed that all dental and medical students be permitted to complete their dental or medical education before being called to active duty.

15 November 1917     Basic training and combat casualty care courses were established for dental officers at the new Dental Section, Sanitary School, Langres, France. (See a more complete description of Army dental education and training in May 1921 entry.)

15 March 1918     Basic and technical training for dental officers and enlisted dental assistants was initiated at Camp Greenleaf, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. (See a more complete description of Army dental education and training in May 1921 entry.)

World War I Statistics     From July 1917 to May 1919, 1,396,957 Soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces were treated for many different dental conditions. Dental officers provided 1,505,424 restorations, 384,427 extractions, 60,387 crowns, and 13,140 dentures. Seven dental officers and seven enlisted dental assistants were killed in action. Eight dental officers died of disease, and thirty-six dental officers and enlisted dental assistants were wounded in combat. By 1920 Dental Corps officers were located in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, and Poland.

12 February 1919     At Colonel Logan’s discharge, Lt. Col. Frank Laflamme was named Chief, Dental Section, Personnel Division, Office of the Surgeon General (OTSG), and became the second Chief, Army Dental Corps. He served as interim chief until August 1919.

21 August 1919     Col. Robert T. Oliver, now the Dental Corps’ ranking officer, returned from his AEF position and was named Chief, Dental Section, Personnel Division, OTSG. He became the third Chief, Army Dental Corps.  Before his entry into Army service, Oliver had a successful civilian career that was interrupted by his voluntary enlisted time during the Spanish-American War. His wartime experience influenced him to become an activist in organized dentistry for an Army dental corps. Oliver was one of the original three members of the Army Dental Examining Board. Colonel Oliver was later elected president of the American Dental Association (1930-1931) and while on active duty served as professor for the dental Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Pennsylvania.

24 November 1919     A Dental Division was established in the OTSG to replace the Dental Section in the Personnel Division, OTSG. Col. Robert T. Oliver was named Director, Dental Division, and remained Chief, Army Dental Corps.

4 June 1920     Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1920. The act authorized 298 officers for the Dental Corps and established the Medical Department ROTC. This allowed establishment of dental ROTC programs at eight dental schools in 1921 and 1922.

May 1921     The Medical Field Services School (MFSS) was established at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. The training in military medical support for dental officers and enlisted dental personnel that had been conducted at the Fort Bliss dental school before the World War, the Sanitary School in Langres, France, and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia during the War, was centralized at the new MFSS. In January 1922 dentistry specific subjects that had been taught at these schools were transferred to the Army Dental School at the Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The MFSS continued to teach the medical support and military subjects to dental personnel and remained at Carlisle Barracks until it moved to Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, in 1946.  In December 1972, as it was occupying new facilities at Fort Sam Houston, the MFSS was re-designated the U.S. Army Academy of Health Sciences (AHS), and in July 1994 the AHS became an element of the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) Center and School instead of a separate command. Enlisted dental training, dental NCO and dental officer military training continued to be conducted by the AHS Dental Science Division. Graduate Dental Education for officers has been delivered under other programs.

September 1921     First Army graduate dental education: Three Dental Corps officers were sent to New York University, Dewey School of Orthodontic Training, and one Dental Corps officer to the Army Medical School for bacteriology training.

6 January 1922     The War Department established an Army Dental School at the Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The faculty included eleven Dental Corps and eighteen Medical Corps officers. The school was opened to give postgraduate courses in advanced military dental surgery, provide an organization for research of dental problems, and train enlisted personnel to meet the requirements of dental service. Colonel Siebert D. Boak was the first commandant. This school was the predecessor of the U.S. Army Institute of Dental Research.

Postwar World War I Demobilization

30 June 1922     Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1922, reducing the size of the Army from 300,000 to 150,000 Soldiers and the size of the Regular Army Dental Corps from 298 to 158 officers. DC downsizing was accomplished by retirement, resignation, and the involuntary separation of 77 dental officers.

12 March 1923     War Department Circular 20 directed that only active duty personnel could be provided dental care, eliminating family member and retired dental care that had been authorized since 1884. The reason cited was a shortage of Army dental officers.

1924     The Army adopted the practice of "expedient dentistry" consisting primarily of emergency care, extractions, and dentures.

July 1924     Col. Rex H. Rhoades was named Director, Dental Division, OTSG, and the fourth Chief, Army Dental Corps.

1925     Dental officers could once again treat the same categories of patients as Medical Corps officers, but no increase in resources was authorized. All dental enlisted personnel were reassigned from medical officer control to the Director, Dental Division, OTSG, for administration and assignment.

1 July 1926     For the first time a Dental Corps officer was assigned to the Army Medical Museum, later renamed the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP).

1927     Three Central Dental Laboratories were established to produce dental appliances and prosthesis.  Each laboratory served one or more corps areas.  They were established at the Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C. (later named Walter Reed Army Medical Center); Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Letterman General Hospital, San Francisco, California. The name was changed to the Regional Dental Activity in 1962 and to Area Dental Laboratory in 1981.

15 June 1928     Col. Julien R. Bernheim was named Director, Dental Division, OTSG, and fifth Chief, Army Dental Corps.

1931     The first dental officer was sent for specialty training in oral surgery.

30 June 1931     The American Dental Association designated the Dental Section of the Army Medical Museum as the official museum of the dental profession in the United States.

31 August 1931     The Dental Division, OTSG, was reorganized under the Professional Division, OTSG.

May 1932     Congress ceased to appropriate funds for Medical Department ROTC, and dental ROTC was phased out of existence by 1935.

15 June 1932     Col. Rex H. Rhoades repeated as Director of Dental Division (now part of Professional Division), OTSG, and became the sixth Chief, Army Dental Corps. The size of the active Dental Corps remained at 158 officers.

1933     The Army Dental Corps was directed to provide emergency dental care to the Civilian Conservation Corps.

1 July 1934     The Registry of Dental and Oral Pathology was established at the Army Medical Museum with the support of the American Dental Association.

20 September 1934     Col. Frank P. Stone was named Chief, Dental Division, Professional Service, OTSG, and seventh Chief, Army Dental Corps.

30 May 1935     Portraits of Capt. John S. Marshall, given by the New York Dental Society, and of Col. Robert T. Oliver, given by the officers of the Dental Corps, were presented to the Army Dental School. This began the tradition of Dental Corps officers’ donating portraits of Dental Corps chiefs for display.

29 November 1935     The OTSG again reorganized, moving dental staff elements from the Professional Division to the Dental Division directly under the Surgeon General.

30 June 1937     Ramping up - anticipating war.  The first increase in the size of the Dental Corps since 1922 occurred. The number of Regular Army dental officers increased by 25 to 183 Dental Corps officers. This began a series of increases leading up to the massive mobilization of World War II.

29 January 1938     The rank of brigadier general was authorized by the 75th Congress (Public Law 423) for the director of the Dental Division, OTSG. This law also directed an increase in the Regular Army Dental Corps to 258 officers. In April 1938 the authorized DC strength was again increased to 316 officers. In this time frame the Dental Reserve Corps reached 5,199 officers, exceeding the projected wartime requirement of 5,000 officers. All reserve Dental Corps recruitment was directed to cease, and the size of the Dental Reserve Corps rapidly dropped below 5,000.

14 March 1938 Leigh C. Fairbank was promoted to Brigadier General becoming the first Dental Corps officer to achieve general officer rank. He was named Chief of the Dental Division, OTSG, and eighth Chief, Army Dental Corps. General Fairbank served until 16 March 1942. (See also 18 December 1959 entry.) 

1 July 1939     The Army Dental Internship Program (one year) opened with eight civilian dentists. Upon successful completion of the program, the dentists would be eligible for commissioning as first lieutenants.

16 March 1940     The American College of Dentists presented a plaque to the Army Medical Service Graduate School (now Walter Reed Army Institute of Research) in memory of Army dental officer Maj. Fernando E. Rodriguez for his pioneer research showing the relationship between the Lactobacillus acidophilus and dental caries.