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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 7, NO. 1 (JANUARY 1936)



(Continued from page 211, October 1935 issue)

It will be noted that the bill as reported by the Committee on Military Affairs provided that appointees to the Dental Corps should be between the age of 22 and 30 years. This would have excluded the appointment of some of the older men then in the service. Inquiries were received by the Surgeon General concerning this matter and on May 9, 1906, he wrote the Chairman, Committee on Military Affairs, furnishing a list of 7 men who would be barred from appointment, and recommended that the age clause be modified so as to permit the appointment of those whose services had been satisfactory. (SGO 106047-20).

The bill did not meet with approval of the War Department and did not pass.

On Feb. 1, 1908, the Surgeon General received a copy of Senate Bill No. 4432—An Act to Reorganize the Corps of Dental Surgeons, attached to the Medical Department of the Army—which passed the Senate Jan. 29, 1908, and was referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, House of Representatives, Jan. 30, 1908. (SGO 10647-26).

March 27, 1908, the Chairman, Committee on Military Affairs, referred the bill to the Surgeon General, requesting information and remark on advisability of the proposed legislation. The Surgeon General replied, inviting attention to his letter to the chief of Staff, April 15, 1904, and stated that in his opinion the bill was defective and should not be passed. He recommended the matter be referred to the General Staff for its careful consideration. He further stated “whatever may be the advantage

*(NOTE.—This is the twelfth 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.).


of organizing a corps of commissioned dental surgeons, I think it extremely important that any steps in that direction should be taken with a full knowledge of what may be expected if such a bill becomes a law. If Congress gives its approval to a Corps of dental surgeons, such an act will simply announce that the Government assumes the dental care and treatment of all persons who are now entitled to medical care and treatment. The conclusion that must be drawn from this announcement is that a sufficient number of commissioned dental surgeons must be provided to give this treatment, or the department must be supplied with means to procure the necessary treatment from civilian sources, just as is now done by the Medical Department for medical treatment. With the present Dental Corps this would entail the expenditure of thousands of dollars annually.

‘I think it is only fair to make this frank statement, as I do not desire, in any way, to be the means of securing the War Department's approval to a bill that would ultimately entail great additional expense to the Government without doing my part in presenting all the facts necessary for the intelligent consideration of the measure.” (SGO 106047-28).

In reply to a letter concerning the Surgeon General’s attitude towards legislation for the Dental Corps, the Surgeon General replied (May 27, 1908) as follows:

“* * I have to inform you that my ideas relative to legislation for the Dental Corps of the Army are contained in my letter of April 15, 1904, addressed to the Chief of Staff. As my views therein expressed were disapproved by the General Staff, the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of War, I have no further official statement to make until the War Department announces a definite policy in regard to dental legislation.” (SGO 106047-31).

At the Chicago session of the American Medical Association (1908) the following resolution was recommended by the Reference Committee on legislative and political action and was adopted by the House of Delegates: “The House of Delegates of the American Medical Association, recognizing the great importance of the services of the Dental Corps of both the Army and Navy, and appreciating the importance of placing them on a commissioned basis, authorizes the committee on medical legislation to assist in securing the passage of such bills as may meet


the approval of the War Department or the Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery of the Navy Department.”

A letter setting forth the above was sent to the Secretary of War under date of July 10, 1908, and was referred by him to the Surgeon General of the Army.

On November 24, 1908, The Chief of Staff wrote the Surgeon General a memorandum inclosing a draft of a bill prepared by Dr. John S. Marshall, Examining and Supervising Dental Surgeon, U S. Army, with request that the Surgeon General express his views in the matter.

On December 16, 1908, the Surgeon General made a rather lengthy reply to the above memorandum. He reviewed the history of the organization of the dental surgeons of the Army, explaining that he had originally taken the stand that rank was not needed to further the proper performance of the duties devolving upon a dental surgeon, and that after having been assured by creditable and responsible persons that the position of rank would result in giving better service and could be provided under a contract system, he later recommended commissioning of dental surgeons. Having made a more extended study of the subject, however, he was convinced that his first opinion was correct for the reason that at the time he recommended commissions he, supposed that prominent and influential members of the National Association represented the opinion of the dental profession, but that he had now found that there were factions among the dentists in the United States and, therefore, he was unable to give the same weight to the opinion of the National Dental Association which he gave on April 15, 1904.

It was his opinion that while he believed the efficiency of the Army would be promoted to a considerable extent by affording it good dental treatment, that it could be accomplished without the creation of a corps of commissioned dental surgeons.

Discussing the desirability of organizing a Dental Corps composed of officers, among other considerations he stated “the commissioning of dental surgeons will be wholly without precedence—that is to say, up to date no Corps has been created in the Army that has no distinctly military relations and duties.” Further: “If dentists are commissioned it would seem that this would do much to cheapen commissions in the Regular Medical


Corps and especially in the Medical Reserve Corps, as dentistry is generally held in the medical profession as a minor and mechanical specialty of the medical sciences. * * * moreover it is certainly a question whether in justice to the Army, dental commissions should be conferred on officers without military duties.”

In conclusion he stated “If it should be decided-to prepare a bill for presentation to Congress for reorganization of the corps of contract dental surgeons, it is requested that this office be allowed to assist in drawing the same, or that the bill when drawn be referred to this office for remark before its final consideration by the War Department.

“In view of all these facts I am constrained to recommend that dental surgeons be not commissioned.” (SGO 106047-35).

In January 1909, General Torney succeeded General O’Reilly as Surgeon General. On January 30, 1909, General Torney wrote the Chairman, Committee on Military Affairs, House of Representatives, the following letter:

“After addressing you yesterday afternoon with reference to the Dental Bill I had occasion to see the Honorable the Secretary of War, who gave me his verbal authority to make whatever answer I thought proper on this important question. In looking over the records of the office I find that Senate Bill 4432 was referred to the War Department for remark in March, 1908. I have read very carefully the excellent endorsement by my predecessor, General O’Reilly, in answer to this call for information. I concur in every thing he says but am strongly of the opinion that he underestimated the item of expense. On Monday morning one of the best dental surgeons in the Army was in my office, and in a conversation he informed me that if a dental corps is ever organized on a proper basis to provide dental treatment for the Army as medical treatment is now provided, it will take a corps of at least 150 officers. I believe this statement is in no way an exaggeration and, in my opinion, the present bill to organize a commissioned dental corps consisting of 50 officers is merely a stepping stone to that end. As you know, the Army is scattered throughout a great many posts, and for this reason a dental surgeon in the Army cannot treat as large a population as a dentist in civil life. If this estimate is not an exaggeration, and I do not believe it is, the cost of a dental corps large enough


to satisfy the needs of the Army will be very much greater than was indicated in General O’Reilly’s endorsement, dated April 1, 1908.

“I think, with the above statement, it rests with the gentlemen in Congress who must provide the means for maintaining the Army, to decide whether it is practicable at this time to provide a commissioned dental corps. It is my understanding that this bill has been disapproved by the Secretary of War and the General Staff.

“I enclose herewith a memorandum giving a rough and incomplete estimate of the additional expense it would be to maintain a dental corps of 50 and 150 officers as compared with the present dental service.” (SGO 106047-29).

February 2, 1909, General Torney wrote Hon. O. W. Underwood, M.C., House of Representatives, the following:

“I thank you very much for your letter of Feb. 1st, which was received this morning. I am always glad to receive the opinion of gentlemen in Congress who know the feeling in this section of the country with reference to any subject that affects the Medical Corps of the Army, and I am particularly glad to hear from you as I understand that you have been a staunch friend to the Corps during past years.

“The letter you refer to, from the Chairman of the Military Committee of the House, was presented to me last Friday and an answer was returned Saturday morning. As the bill in question has been before the War Department and disapproved by the General Staff and the Secretary of War, I confined my statement to Mr. Hull to the additional expense that would be incurred by the Government if a bill authorizing a corps of dental surgeons should pass Congress.” (SGO 106047).

On November 26th, 1909, the Surgeon General forwarded to the Adjutant General a draft of a bill proposed for the improvement of the dental service of the Army, together with a memorandum discussing reasons for such legislation.


THAT, for the purpose of securing an efficient dental service in the army there shall be attached to the Medical Department a dental corps which shall be composed of dental surgeons


and acting dental surgeons, the total number of which shall not exceed the proportion of one to each thousand of actual enlisted strength of the army; that the number of dental surgeons shall be such as may, from time to time, be authorized by law in accordance with the needs of the service.

Sec. 2. That all original appointments to the dental corps shall be as acting dental surgeons who shall have the same official status, pay and allowances as the contract dental surgeons now authorized by law.

Sec. 3. Acting dental surgeons who have served three years in a manner satisfactory to the Surgeon General of the Army shall be eligible for appointment as dental surgeons and after passing, in a satisfactory manner, an examination which may be prescribed by the Surgeon General, may be commissioned with the rank of first lieutenant in the dental corps to fill the vacancies existing therein. Officers of the dental corps shall have rank in such corps according to date of their commissions therein and shall rank next below officers of the medical reserve corps. Their right to command shall be limited to the dental corps and they shall be entitled to the respect and obedience of all enlisted men.

Sec. 4. That the pay and allowances of dental surgeons shall be those of first lieutenants not mounted, including the right to retirement on account of age or disability, as in the case of other officers : PROVIDED, That the time served by dental surgeons as acting dental or contract dental surgeons shall be reckoned in computing the increased service pay of such as are commissioned under this Act.

Sec. 5. That the appointees as acting dental surgeons must be citizens of the United States between twenty-two and thirty years of age, graduates of a standard dental college, 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:

PROVIDED, That the dental surgeons attached to the medical- department at the time of the passage of this Act may be


eligible for appointment as first lieutenants, dental corps, without limitation as to age, and

PROVIDED FURTHER, That the professional examination for such appointment may be waived in the case of dental surgeons in the service at the time of the passage of this Act whose efficiency reports and entrance examinations are satisfactory to the Surgeon General.

Sec. 6. That the Surgeon General of the Army is authorized to appoint Boards of Examiners to conduct the examinations herein prescribed, one of whom shall be a surgeon in the army and two of whom shall be selected by the Surgeon General from the commissioned dental surgeons in the corps. (SGO 106047-45).

(To be continued)