Military Dental Care During World War I

Veterans Day, military dental care

Veterans Day is a day reserved to honor all of those, both living and dead, who have served in the United States Armed Forces. In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to mark the date of November 11th as a national day of observance beginning in 1938. November 11th was chosen as the World War I armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month so it held special significance. This Veterans Day, we thought we’d look back at how military dental care looked for those serving during World War I and how much changed in such a short time period during this very profound historical event.

Early Military Dentistry

Until the early 1900s, dental care was not a priority for the military. If a soldier could bite the end off a cartridge to load gun powder and a bullet into their gun, their dental condition was considered good enough for military service! If soldiers needed any form of dental care, they would turn to someone in their community like a barber, family member or possibly other soldiers for care. But in 1872, a hospital steward by the name of William Steward was given written orders to provide dental services as part of his regular duties.

Founding of the Us Army Dental Corps

With time, a greater need was seen for an established organization and a medical doctor named John Sayre Marshall lobbied for its recognition by the government. In 1911, the US Army Dental Corps was founded to provide care for US soldiers, becoming the first federally recognized military dental organization in the world. Marshall became the first commissioned Army dental surgeon and is recognized as the “Father of the U.S. Army Dental Corps.”

With the US entering World War I in 1914, dental care became a more important consideration as the number of troops would increase from an initial 200,00 to a final total of 4.7 million. Many incoming soldiers had never seen a dentist until they joined the military at this time. Throughout the course of the war, dental offices would perform more than 384,000 dental extractions, place more than 60,000 crowns and more than 13,000 dentures. Despite not actively being in battle, numerous dental officers and assistants were either wounded or killed in battle. By the end of the war on November 11, 1918, the Corps had grown to include 4,620, each providing care for roughly 1, 027 patients.

As of April 2021, there are currently around 19 million U.S. veterans as of this year, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Gulf War-era veterans now account for the largest share of all U.S. veterans.

About Gregory Mansour
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