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The Dental Corps

AMEDD Corps History > U.S. Army Dental Corps > Walter D. Vail and the History of the U.S. Army Dental Corps


VOLUME 6, NO. 2 (APRIL 1935)



(Continued from page 26, January 1935 issue)

Records of the Surgeon General’s Office indicate that during the early years of the Dental Corps it was customary to detail Army dental surgeons by War Department orders to represent the Medical Department and Dental Corps at the more important dental association meetings.

Dr. John S. Marshall was relieved from duty in Washington, D.C., July 31 1901, and directed to proceed to Milwaukee, Wis., to represent the Medical Department of the Army at the meeting of the National Dental Association August 6th to 9th, then to proceed to San Francisco, Calif. -(S.G.O. 70760).

Dr. John H. Hess was detailed to represent the Dental Corps of the Army at National Dental Association meeting held at Niagara Falls, N.Y., July 1902. (Record Book, Contract Dental Surgeons, p. 17).

Dr. Wm. H. Chambers represented the Dental Corps of the Army at the annual meeting of the National Dental Association, Ashville, N.C., July 28-31, 1903. (Record Book, Contract Dental Surgeons, p. 19).

Dr Edwin P. Tignor represented the Dental Corps at the International Dental Congress at St. Louis, August 29th-Sept. 3, 1904. (Record Book, Contract Dental Surgeons, p. 24).

Dr. John S. Marshall was granted a leave of absence to represent the Dental Corps at the Lewis and Clark Dental Congress, Portland, Ore., July 17-20, 1905. (Record Book, Contract Dental Surgeons, p. 1).

Dr. Robert T. Oliver represented the Dental Corps at the Annual Meeting of the National Dental Association, Buffalo, N. Y.,

*(NOTE.—This is the ninth installment of a series of articles pertaining to the organization of the Dental Corps and the development of the Army dental service. These installments are a compilation of available records with such comment as is necessary to connect the record.—W.D.V.).


July 24-29, 1905. (Record Book, Contract Dental Surgeons, p. 2).

Apparently the Dental Corps was not represented at the National Dental Association meeting held in Atlanta, Ga., Sept. 1621, 1906.

Dr. Robert T. Oliver was detailed to attend the Executive Council meeting of the National Dental Association held in Washington, Dec. 8th, 1906. (Record Book, Contract Dental Surgeons, p. 2).

Dr. Robert T. Oliver represented the Dental Corps at the Annual Meeting of the National Dental Association, Minneapolis, Minn., July 30th-Aug. 2nd„ 1907. (Record Book, Contract Dental Surgeons, p. 3).

No evidence has been found in the records that the Dental Corps was represented at the National Dental Association meetings held in 1908, 1909 and 1910.

Circular No. 4, War Department, S.G.O., Washington, May 29, 1901, provided a supply table for contract dental surgeons. It included an “outfit for contract dental surgeons, U.S. Army” and an additional dental outfit to be supplied to general hospitals and such other stations as the Surgeon General designated. The latter outfit consisted primarily of a laboratory outfit with necessary supplies and added furniture, forceps and books.

The materials provided for filling operations were alloy, cements, guttapercha, and for replacement of teeth vulcanite rubber and artificial teeth. No gold or other expensive materials were listed in the table.

The failure to provide gold precluded the construction of gold fillings, inlays and bridgework at Government expense and was the cause of considerable correspondence and effort to have some modification of Regulations made whereby such materials could be provided. Some dental surgeons were providing material at the cost of material; others were charging certain fees. The Surgeon General opposed all efforts to modify. Regulations and caused to be issued (G.O.W.D. 128, 1908) an amendment to Paragraph 1420, A.R., so as to forbid the use of such materials for enlisted men and to prohibit dental surgeons from entering into any financial agreement with enlisted men involving pay-


ment for gold, silver, platinum, etc. (S.G.O. 77614).

General Orders 128, War Department, 1908, in the words of one dental surgeon “is working a great hardship and injury upon enlisted men” and he recommended a standard fee list be approved by the Surgeon General for the use of such materials in cases where the urgency of the case demanded. (S.G.O. 77614-T).

Others made similar recommendations but the Surgeon General opposed consistently all such recommendations.

The difficulty encountered as the result of failure to provide gold materials is illustrated by the following case:

Pvt. G. J. K., Band Co., 6th Cavalry, Jolo, P.I., had a left lateral incisor supplied by bridge-work with left central incisor as abutment. The abutment tooth was becoming very loose and the loss of the bridge was imminent. On Dec. 5th, 1908, he made application to have a new bridge made replacing left central and lateral incisors. The dental surgeon stationed at Jolo stated he was unable to supply a bridge as it would be a violation of par. 1420 A.R. He stated the work required would probably cost about $19.50 for materials. This communication was sent through channels to the Adjutant General with various recommendations and statements made in the several indorsements. The Surgeon General returned the communication by 14th indorsement to the Adjutant General, recommending disapproval. The 15th indorsement by the Adjutant General stated in effect that the soldier should be treated at his station by the dental surgeon and without cost to the soldier and with materials supplied by the Medical Department. The dental surgeon at Jolo returned the communication, stating that he was not equipped to construct a partial denture for the soldier and furthermore that a partial denture would be impracticable in this case as in the playing of instrument a partial denture would not be satisfactory as it would be thrown- out of position by pressure against the lips and teeth. The dental surgeon felt competent to do any work that Pvt. K. might need as no special skill was necessary, but that it was impossible to replace teeth with only filling materials being furnished him. This communication was received back in the Surgeon General’s Office July 6, 1909. The final action on the case was the transferring of the soldier to the divi-


sion hospital at Manila for examination and treatment. (S.G.O. 77614-V).

Following the receipt of the above communication the Surgeon General, on July 8, 1909, filed the following memorandum : “It being the decision of the Surgeon General that on account of the numerous abuses which arose and the extortions which were practised by dental surgeons upon enlisted men prior to the amendment of A.R. 1420 by General Orders 128, W.D., 1908, no change in the present regulations, or even the slightest modification of it is advisable.”

As stated previously, examinations for appointment as contract dental surgeon were not held between 1902 and 1904. In 1904 a group of candidates were examined by Dr. John H. Hess, Examining and Supervising Dental Surgeon, West Point, N.Y., (S.G.O. 79325-72).

In connection with this examination it is interesting to note that the physical condition of candidates was more carefully considered than during previous examinations. Dr. Hess was instructed to report all candidates to the surgeon for physical examination prior to the professional examination and that a professional examination would not be given to any candidate who was physically disqualified. The surgeon was instructed by letter from the Surgeon General’s Office (Oct. 17, 1904) to critically examine candidates for any defect or disability that would disqualify for commission. (S.G.O. 79325).

Dr. Hess’ report on the group examined was forwarded by the Surgeon General to Dr. John S. Marshall, President of the Board of Examining and Supervising Dental Surgeons, Presidio of San Francisco, Calif., with” * * * request that you give them critical review and make recommendation to this office as to whether you think these dentists should be placed upon the eligible list for appointment as dental surgeons.” (S.G.O. 79325-72A).

This procedure apparently did not work out satisfactorily and on March 9, 1905, the examining board appointed by order Surgeon General's Office, dated Feb. 19, 1901, was dissolved. (S.G.O. 79325).

Thereafter it appears each member of the board of examining and supervising dental surgeons (Dr. Marshall, Dr. Oliver


and Dr. Hess) functioned as a separate examining board in so far as professional qualifications of candidates were concerned. The findings of each board were considered without reference to other examining and supervising dental surgeons. The several examining and supervising dental surgeons were instructed to confer with one and another “relative to the form and scope of the examination in order to secure a competitive feature to the examination as far as practicable.” (S.G.O. 79325-89).

Examinations were held in the United States only. Examining and supervising dental surgeons on duty outside the continental limits of the United States did not give examinations during such periods of duty.

The above method of handling examinations was continued until after the passage of the Act of March 3, 1911. A large number of candidates appeared for examination during the period 1909-1911 but relatively few were successful. On March 21, 1911, Dr. Marshall wrote the Surgeon General that “ * * * Nearly all, if not all, of the young men who were coming up for examination for employment as acting dental surgeons, United States Army, are very poorly qualified for these examinations” and suggested that an article be sent to all dental journals setting forth the requirements and advantages of the Army dental service. The Surgeon General approved Dr. Marshall’s suggestion and asked him to prepare the notice and forward it to the Surgeon General’s Office at the earliest practicable date. (S.G.O. 79325-100)

Dr. Marshall forwarded, on March 27, 1911, a draft of notice to be published in dental journals containing general information for candidates who desired admission to the Dental Corps. (S.G.O. 79325-100 A)

On April 10, 1911, the Surgeon General sent the following letter to the editors of leading dental publications. (Note: With the exception of the first paragraph, the notice was as prepared by Dr. Marshall).

“For the general information of the dental profession and those young gentlemen who have been deterred from seeking service in the U.S. Army Dental Corps by reason of what has been in many respects an undesirable status, I have the honor to state


that on March 3rd, a measure entitled “A bill to improve the status and efficiency of the dental surgeons in the U.S. Army” was passed by the Congress and approved by the President of the United States. (H.R. 23097, incorporated in H.R 31327 with slight changes).

“It has long been recognized by the Surgeon General of the Army and the War Department that the Dental Corps is a valuable addition to the Medical Department of the Army and that the status of the Dental Surgeons as authorized by the provisions of the previous law, were inadequate and insufficient to properly reward them for their services or to further tempt young practitioners of the highest professional ability to enter the service.

“The passage of the measure referred to has greatly improved the status, pay and allowances of the Corps and should make the service desirable and attractive to such young and unmarried dental practitioners who think they would enjoy a military life.

Section 2 of the Bill provides, ‘That all original appointments—those made since the above date—to the Dental Corps shall be acting dental surgeons, who shall have the same official status, pay and allowances as the contract dental surgeons now authorized by law.’

Section 3 of the measure provides that ‘Acting dental surgeons who have served three years in a manner satisfactory to the Secretary of War, shall be eligible for appointments as dental surgeons, and after passing in a satisfactory manner an examination, which may be prescribed by the Secretary of War, may be commissioned with the rank of first lieutenant in the Dental Corps, to fill the vacancies existing therein.’

Section 4 provides further, ‘That the pay and allowances of dental surgeons shall be those of first lieutenants, including the right to retirement on account of age or disability, as in the case of other officers: Provided, That the time served as dental surgeons, as acting dental surgeons, or contract dental surgeons, shall be reckoned in computing the increased service pay of such as are commissioned under this Act.’ This clause provides for advancement, practically of one grade, with an increase of pay from ($1,800) one thousand eight hundred dollars to


($2,000) two thousand dollars per year. Quarters when available or in lieu thereof when no quarters are furnished commutation at the rate of ($36.00) thirty-six dollars per month. Longevity pay—which is ten per cent increase on full pay for services in the Philippines or Alaska—and retirement on three-fourths pay for age or disability contracted in the service and in line of duty.’

Section 5 provides ‘That the appointees as acting dental surgeons must be citizens of the United States, between twenty-one and twenty-seven years of age, graduates of standard dental colleges, of good moral character and good professional education, and they shall be required to pass the usual physical examination required for appointment in the Medical Corps, and a professional examination which shall include tests of skill in practical dentistry and of proficiency in the usual subjects of a standard dental college course.’

“Examinations are now being conducted with the view of filling the Corps to its maximum strength. Dentists therefor desiring to take the examination should make application at once to The Adjutant General, U.S. Army, War Department, Washington, D.C., when a blank application sheet will be forwarded to them to be executed and returned.

“The character of the physical examination is the same as that required for surgeons entering the Medical Corps.

“The professional examination comprehends all subjects taught in standard dental colleges in both theory and practice and are made as thorough as is fair to the applicant and consistent with the best interests of the service.

“The Army Dental Surgeon if he is to fill his position with credit to himself and his profession, and with proper efficiency to the service, must be well educated, above the ordinary in technical ability and well-qualified in all departments of dentistry. The need of these requirements will be more readily appreciated when the statement is made that the dental surgeons of the Army are very rarely associated at a Post with a member of their profession. Consequently they are thrown entirely upon their own professional resources and must exercise their own judgment in the treatment of their more difficult and serious cases as consultations are practically out of the question.


“Futhermore the surgeon of the post frequently refers cases, involving diseases of the mouth and jaws with which he is more or less unfamiliar, to the dental surgeons, and expects to find, as he has a right to, that the dental surgeon is not only capable of rendering a correct diagnosis, but competent to take charge of the case if required to do so; as in the treatment of fractures of the jaws, deep seated abscesses of the jaws associated with impacted teeth, facial neuralgia, empyemia of the maxillary sinus, etc.

“The Deans of the Dental Colleges and the profession generally can greatly assist the Department in building up and improving the efficiency of the Dental Corps by advising and recommending young practitioners of the best attainment to apply for these positions.

“The position of a Dental Surgeon in the U.S. Army is an honorable one and should prove attractive, to young men, as the pay and allowances now offered are good, and in the unfortunate event of broken health incident to the service or upon reaching the age limit of sixty-four years, he retires from the service with three-fourth pay, which after twenty years or more of service would give him a yearly income of ($2,160) two thousand one hundred and sixty dollars.” (S.G.O. 79325-101).

(To be continued).