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Origins and development royal Australian Army Dental Corps.

Military medical services in some form or other have always existed in Australia. During the Boer War many troops became incapacitated due to dental disease, could not chew their food and had to be evacuated: an Army that cannot bite cannot fight. The British Army's answer to this problem was to issue two mincing machines to each infantry company and anthorise some general dental practitioners to come out from England at their own expense and to work in the base camps.

In the reorganisation of the AAMC which took place after the Boer War no provision was made for a dental service. However the field medical kit contained four universal dental extraction pliers. In 1906 the Director of Medical Services, Surgeon General Williams, unsuccessfully tried for the formation of a dental service when the AMF was reorganised for the introduction of Universal Military Training in 1911.

World War 1

At the outbreak of WW1 no system existed in the Army for dental treatment. Responsibility for this default did not lie with the medical or dental professions as both had urged its importance. On the outbreak of war many dental practitioners volunteered for service as Army Dentists but their enlistment was refused as not being provided for in British War Establishments. The AIF was to work with the British Army and therefore adopt its organisation and structure. The British War Office and medical establishment made no provision for, or had no dental policy, only a negative attitude to dental treatment in the field.

When the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force was raised in 1914 for service in German New Guinea, General Howse VC the senior medical officer recognised the need for dental support and arranged for John Keith Henderson, a 4th year dental student and his instruments to be part of the medical detachment of the AN&MEF. Henderson thus became the first dental person in the Australian Army to render dental treatment in the field during WWl. He later served in France as an infantry captain in the 13th Battalion and was killed at Pozieres on 14 August 1916.

With recruiting under way for the AIF, a dental officer was appointed to each military district, he drew pay and field allowances but his scope of duty provided only for advice to senior medical officers and no liability was to be incurred for dental work. The dental profession itself stepped into the gap and organised in each State, clinics to treat troops in camp on purely gratuitous and patriotic basis. Dental Hospitals were also placed at the disposal of the Minister for Defence, and private practitioners treated troops free of charge in their own surgeries. Due to the public spirited action the Australian Imperial Force sailed from Australia in a reasonably satisfactory condition of dental fitness.

Within a short period of arriving in Egypt large numbers of men began to present at sick parades for dental treatment. The Army had made no provision for dental treatment in Egypt, In Cairo private dentists both qualified and unqualified were thronged even thought the cost of treatment was exorbitant and mostly of poor quality. When soldiers pay drawing rights were reduced, to keep them out of brothels and to reduce the high incidence of VD, there was no money available for private dental treatment and so the dental problems became even greater. In some units or field ambulances soldiers with some dental knowledge were put to work, instruments and supplies purchased from local Cairo sources with the aid of Red Cross and Unit Comfort Funds. General Bridges in a despatch to the Defence Department said that the services of a dentist in the field would make for efficiency and economy as an alternative to evacuating soldiers back to base areas for treatment. By the end of July 1915 from the 1st Australian Division alone 600 men had been evacuated from Gallipoli because of dental disabilities or their inability to chew their food. A soldier who cannot bite his army biscuit cannot fight.
On 6 January 1915 Military Order No. 11 approved the
formation of the AAMC (Dental) Reserve.

Military District Captains Lieutenants

1 1 7
2 1 13
3 1 13
4 1 7
5 1 5
6 1 5
Total 6 50

All ranks were honorary, this was the first recognition in Australia of the principle of granting commissioned rank to members of the dental profession as such, and was the first step in the formation of an Australian Army Dental Corps. The first appointments were not made until March 1915 and the Reserve was not utilised until May 1915 when its members were called up for home service. The demand of the dental profession for the opportunity to participate as a technical branch of the AAMC was backed with vehement and even bitter support by the forces overseas.

In June 1915 Military Order 387 authorised the appointment of Dentists to commissioned rank and dental mechanics to non-commissioned rank in the AIF.

MO 387 Authorised a total of 39 personnel:--

13 Lieutenants 13 Staff Sergeants and 13 Orderlies.

These were to be enlisted partly locally in Australia and partly from the force overseas and were to be organised as 13 Dental Units.

In July 1915 a meeting was held in the office of the DGMS Melbourne to select the first six officers (one from each State) to be posted overseas.
The original six selected were:--

Lt Marshall 3 AGH Lemnos
Lt Molle 1 AGH Heliopolis Palace Hotel
Lt Terry 1 AGH Heliopolis Palace Hotel
Lt Day Mena House
Lt Down 1 Auxiliary Hospital, Luna Park Heliopolis
Lt Douglas Zeitoun Camp

Four additional officers were appointed in Egypt:

Lt. Wright 3 Auxiliary Hospital
Lt. Pascoe 2 AGH Gezireh Palace
Lt. Blogg Helonan convalescent Hospital
Lt. Vernon Harefield Park Convalescent Hospital--UK

By December 1915 Surgeon General Howse VC had been appointed provisional DGMS AIF. General Howse VC shared the beliefs of the dental profession, in the potentialities of the new Dental Corps as a branch of reparative surgery and preventive medicine.

To organise dental services throughout the Commonwealth a principle Dental officer was appointed to the Staff of DGMS and an Staff Dental Officer to 2 MD and 3MD.

Military Order No.76 dated 22nd February, 1916 provided for a home service of:
Majors 2
Captains 6
Lieutenant 160
Warrant Officers 5
Staff Sergeants. 163

New dental units were formed and equipped as rapidly as men and material could be found and assembled. By April 1916, 36 Dental Units were at work of which 25 had been equipped locally from the dental section of the Australian Base Depot of Medical Stores now in charge of a dental quartermaster, Lieutenant Unsworth.

The consent of the Australian Government was obtained by General Birdwood for three dental sections to accompany each division preceding to France, with one dental unit attached to each field ambulance. (Military Order No. 278 dated 20 June 1916.)

By May 1916 the Dental Corps consisted of a Home Service and the AIF with four majors, 54 captains, 116 lieutenants, eight warrant officers, 170 staff sergeants, eight corporals and 170 privates. Major T.F.W. Hall was Staff Officer Dental Services on the staff of DGMS in Melbourne and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

The first thirty six AIF Dental Units were allotted as follows:--
General Hospitals 3
Auxiliary Hospitals 4
Dermatological Hospitals 1
Convalescent Depots 2
Stationary Hospitals 2
Casualty Clearing Station 1
Field Ambulances 12
Light Horse Fd. Amb. 3
Training Bases 8

The Base Depot for Medical and Dental Stores was at Heliopolis. Every dentist who left Egypt with the AIF was supplied with a complete field equipment and sufficient supplies of materials to carry on for six to eight weeks.

By February 1917 dental officers were given power to ask for men to be paraded for dental examinations. A standard of dental fitness had been established, and no man was allowed to proceed overseas unless he was dentally fit.

In July 1917 MO No. 290 advised that all Honorary Ranks held by Dental Officers were to be made substantive with effect from April.

Late in 1917 Staff Officers and Senior Dental Officers were appointed in order to improve the control and supervision of Dental Units serving overseas. It was the duty of all Staff Officers to ensure that the best available use was being made of the units under their control. Staff Officers appointed were:
Admin. H.Q. Lieutenant Colonel Marshall
Dental Units France Major Day
AIF Depots in UK Major Down
Dental Units in Egypt Major Douglas

By November 1918 there were 130 dental officers serving the AIF abroad, of whom 119 were engaged in operative work, and 11 in administrative duties. In 1916-17 there was one dental officer per 7,500 men and by 1918-19 one dental officer for every 4,250 men.

Between the wars

From 1920 to 1939 a small nucleus of dental officers in each Military District carried out tactical exercises to study the constitution, equipment, administration and tactical handling of army dental units. The more senior militia officers also qualified for administrative positions. At the outbreak of WW2 found a nucleus of medical and dental officers with a knowledge of the military system.

World War II

On Sunday, 3 September 1939, Australians knew that they were committed to another war. The organisation necessary to provide a dental service had already received attention from the DGMS and ADGMS (Dental) Colonel J.E. Down prior to mobilisation. In 1939 Colonel Down estimated the dental needs for a division and its associated troops to be:

50,000 fillings

40,000 extractions

10,000 dentures.

For this task seven dental officers were provided.

By October 1939 Dental Units were provided on the War Establishment of

3 Field Ambulances

1 Casualty Clearing Station

2 General Hospitals

1 Convalescent Depot.

Each Dental Unit consisted of a Dental Officer, two Mechanics and one Clerk Orderly. They wore a brown hexagonal colour patch.

Growth of the Dental Services progressed through a series of stages:--

1. Limited number of dentists enlisted in the early stages

2. Assistance of a part time voluntary service

3. Equipment and supplies were insufficient for a time

4. Dental surgeons working with locally obtained dental supplies

5. Attaining separate status of the AAD Corps.

On the 23rd April 1943 GRO A369 Of 1943 authorised the formation of the AAD Corps. In July GRO O 520 of 1943 designated a hexagonal colour patch of Burnt Orange.. This was changed on 16 November 1945 by GRO 283 to the new rectangular system which remained until 1948 when colour patches ceased to be worn, and shoulder titles introduced.

By October 1945 the establishment of the Dental Corps was:--


DDS Advanced LHQ

Consulting Dental Surgeon LHQ

Depot of Dental Store LHQ








Aust Base Depot of Dental Stores

44 Dental Units 2/1 to 2/8 51 to 87

5 Reinforcement Pools--one in each mainland state.
Qld L of C Area 1 officer
NSW 1 OF C Area 2 officers
Vic L of C Area 4 officers
WA L of C Area 2 officers
SA L of C Area 1 officer

Dental Officers Attached to Other Units
Hospital Ships Manunda & Wanganella 2 captains
Facio Maxillary Units 4 majors
Casualty Clearing Stations 9 captains
Australian General Hospitals 22 majors or captains
Royal Military College Dental Unit 1 captain
Supernumerary List 3 major & 14 captains

At the cessation of hostilities Dental Units continued to be employed where the need was greatest and were gradually reduced as demobilisation wound down the Army.

Post war period

At the cessation of hostilities Land Headquarters AMF was disbanded and Army Headquarters and the Military Board were re-established.

The RAADC was administered by the Director Dental Services under the Adjutant General Branch of Army Headquarters. The allotment of dental personnel was to be based on one dental officer per 1000 soldiers.

Dental Units were regarded as Army Troops and allocated on the basis of two per division and three per corps with additional units for BASE and Communication Zone Areas as required.

The Dental Unit consisted of a Headquarters and six sections (Major & 7 Captains). The HQ with two dental officers controlled and administered the sections and could establish a dental post. Each section consisted of a Dental Officer, two technicians and an orderly / clerk. The sections were self contained in personnel, equipment, transport and were normally allocated to other units for maintenance.

Other dental personnel (Dental Section) were allotted to medical units as follows:--

Casualty Clearing Station

General Hospital with more than 100 beds

Convalescent Depot--2 Sections

Hospital Ships

Maxillo- Facial Surgical Team

The raising of BCOF and 34th Infantry Brigade and its supporting elements saw the raising in Mauritai of 87th Dental Unit which became BRITCOM Dental Unit at Kure in Japan. This unit predominantly Australian also contained British, Canadians and New Zealanders.

In 1948 the Dental Corps in common with other Corps which had seen war service received the Royal Charter and so became the Royal Australian Army Dental Corps. The Corps became affiliated with the RADC and adopted a modification of their hat badge. The Corps Colour became Green until 1961 when it reverted back to Burnt Orange.

The Interim Army, the beginning of the Australian Regular Army (ARA), was formed in 1947 and recruiting for Korea and K Force commenced in 1951. Dental Section 101 was raised for service in Korea and when a second battalion was sent to Korea, Dental Section 102 was raised to support the Australian Forces in Korea.

In 1948 CMF Dental Units were raised in each State.

1 Dental Unit--Queensland

2 Dental Unit--New South Wales

3 Dental Unit--Victoria

4 Dental Unit--South Australia

5 Dental Unit--Western Australia

6 Dental Unit--Tas

41 Dental Training Unit--Singleton

These units supported the CMF Divisions and the Communication Zone Troops.

Regular Army Dental Units were raised in each Command to support the Australian Regular Army.

7 Dental Unit--New South Wales

8 Dental Unit--Victoria

9 Dental Unit--Queensland

10 Dental Unit--Keswick

11 Dental Unit--Western Australia

12 Dental Unit--Kapooka

15 Dental Unit--Queensland

16 Dental Unit--Woodside

17 Dental Unit--Puckapunyal

18 Dental Unit--Singleton Raised 15 September 1965

21 Dental Unit RMC Dental Unit

32 Dental Unit was raised for service in Malaya and Borneo

33 Dental Unit was raised for service in Vietnam.

35 Dental Unit--Holdsworthy/Ingleburn/Puckapunyal

620 Dental Unit Papua and New Guinea Command

In 1959 approval was granted for the appointment of Dental Specialist Consultants. Today we have consultants in all of the major dental specialties of:

Oral Surgery


Conservative Dentistry

Preventive Dentistry



1960 Reorganisation--The Pentropic Division

Dental Units were not organic to the Division but were allocated on the basis of one unit per 5000 troops. A Dental Unit was organic to the Combat Support Group, in the Communication Zone the allocation was also one unit per 5000 troops. A Dental Unit consisted of a HQ and four sections which could form 5 dental teams, the teams are self contained operationally with their own transport and are attached to units as required.

Dental Units work under the direction of a DADDS on divisional HQ, the appointment normally being filled by the senior OC of the dental units concerned.

During July 1967 Department of Defence issued a directive that the Medical and Dental Stores Services of the RAN, AMF and RAAF was to come under the single management of the Army. The DDS would be responsible from 1st January 1967 for the procurement, supply and issue of all Dental Stores required by the three Services.

1970 Reorganisation--The Division in Battle

Divisional Allocation
 ADDS on Div HQ
 Two dental units now organic to the Division.
 Unit is air portable and all stores are man portable
 Three dental sections--each organic to a Field Ambulance
 Two dental Sections organic to the Light Field Hospital

Two dental units each of five officers and 18 other ranks with five light vehicles with trailers are now organic to the division under the control of an ADDS, able to form ten treatment sections allocated on the basis of one section per 1000 troops. Sections are technically self contained but must be attached to a unit for local administration. Each Field Ambulance has a Dental Section and the Light Field Hospital has two dental sections.

In 1976 the two Divisional dental units were reorganised into a single unit of a headquarters and 12 sections. 14 officers 42 other ranks and 13 light vehicles with trailers, ie 13 Dental Sections

1981 Reorganisation--Manual of land warfare

Dental Unit with HQ and three HQ Treatment Sections each of two Treatment Sections. 11 Dental Officers 31 OR's with 10 Lt veh & Tlr. ie 10 dental sections

Three Field Ambulances each with an organic Dental Section of 1::3

Field Hospital with an organic Dental Section of 1:3

1995 Reorganisation--Brigade Administrative Support Battalion

On 1 July 1995 all dental units were absorbed into the medical company of the Brigade Administrative Support Battalion and lost their individual dental unit number. The new medical company now consisted of the old field ambulance, the dental unit and a psych unit. On the 15 May 2001 the Brigade Administrative Support Battalion was renamed as Combat Service Support Battalion. The dental unit now wears the colour patch of its Combat Service Support Battalion.


Today we have the Defence Force Dentistry Organisation which has become a Tri-Service organisation. The Field Force is supported by Combat Service Support Battalion.

In the base areas are the fixed medical and dental centres located in each State. These Medical and Dental Centres are now staffed by a combination of Army, Navy or Air Force and civilian personnel and now also include a dental hygienist.

Overseas peacekeeping forces receive their dental support from dental teams specially raised for that operation and usually consist of tri-service personnel. Even in East Timor soldiers were still chipping or breaking their teeth on hard rations. Today impacted and/or infected wisdom teeth rather than lack of teeth or decayed teeth are the major problem. A soldier with an infected and impacted wisdom tooth cannot bite or chew his food and is therefore not fit to fight.


The Army Dental Service was formed of necessity in WW1 as part of the AAMC Reserve (Dental) to prevent the evacuation of soldiers from dental disease and the inability to chew hard rations. It developed according to circumstances during WWI and WW2 and gained status as a separate corps on 23 April 1943. The corps gained Royal assent in 1948 and became the Royal Australian Army Dental Corps (RAADC). Today the RAADC has become part of the Australian Defence Force Dental Service staffed by Army, Navy, Air Force and civilian personnel as required and wherever required. Today all troops are maintained dentally fit and the emphasis is now on prevention. The higher level of dental health and fewer missing teeth has created a new situation for the RAADC to adapt to, more impacted wisdom teeth. Dental support for operations is now an ADF or tri-service function. There is now a greater need for dentists with surgical skills. Today on peacekeeping and humanitarian deployments the RAADC is still adapting to the situation of highly specialised dental treatment for all ADF personnel and very basic treatment for civilian populations being supported on peacekeeping operations.

Lieutenant Colonel Sven Kuusk RFD, BDS(Hons), MDS, qs(us). (Retd.)
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Author:Kuusk, Sven
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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