Monday, 25 May 2015

Military Dentistry In Canada - 100th Anniversary

War Memorial at the Faculty of Dentistry
Figure 1: War Memorial at the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto.
May 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of military dentistry in Canada. This is a formal date, as military dentistry had informally started much earlier than 1915. In 1904 dental practitioners were formally appointed in the Militia Army Medical Corps, a division of the Canadian Forces. Dental surgeons were given the rank of lieutenant and after 5 years of service they were promoted to captain. Jackson (1) lists the first known dental surgeon appointed by the army as Dr. William Thomas Hackett (Oakville) on September 10, 1904. 

Although dentists were active as part of medical services before 1915, and provided dental care in the South African War (1899-1902), it was not until 1915 that Canadian Army Dental Corps (CADC) was organized. Its members served in the Great War of 1914-19, where "they cared for all dental matters affecting the personnel of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada" (1). The first military dental clinic in Canada was opened in March 1915 at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto (2). The first Director was Colonel J. Alex Armstrong, an Ottawa dentist. The list of members grew to over 100 in 1915 to meet the overwhelming demands of the war. The Canadian Government supplied dental instruments and materials, the Canadian Dental Association appointed a committee to collect funds for operating coats, operating gowns, laboratory aprons, towels, wipes, dusters, sponges, special dental surgical instruments, x-ray photographs, equipment for splints, books and many other necessities... (3). Member of the committee included Dr. Albert Webster and Dr. Seccombe (3), both former deans of the school. 

Clinics were established overseas in England, where they performed examinations and treatment of soldiers, including injuries to the nose and chin, facial surgery and restoration (2). 

Dean Albert Webster
Figure 2: Dean A. Webster 
In 1916, more dental officers, dental mechanics and men were requested from Ottawa. Dr. Webster, dean of the Royal College of Dental Surgeons (the former name of the Faculty of Dentistry, UofT), encouraged the entire freshman class to serve as mechanics (1). 

After the war, the services disbanded and the new Canadian Army Dental Services was formed with fewer officers appointed. Many other administrative and organizational changes happened until the start of the Second World War in 1939, when the Royal Canadian Dental Corps (RCDC) was re-established and called out to service. Today the RCDC continues to operate as a personnel branch of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) has put together a detailed online display celebrating the Centennial. The Canadian War Museum also has an exhibit entitled Oral History: A Century of Canadian Military Dentistry, running from May 12, 2015 to November 15, 2015.

Impact on Dental Research 

Dr. H. K. Box
Figure 3: Dr. H. K. Box, PhD
To meet the demand for military dentists overseas during WWI, enrollment to the school increased steadily, and by 1919 the RCDS' incoming class was made up of 375 students, making the entire student body 804 (2). The increase in enrollment attracted many talented minds, who were eager to take part in research. One graduate who flourished in the influx of dental research at this time was Dr. Harold Keith Box (graduated in 1914), who is considered the father of dental research in Canada. He contributed many articles on various dental and bacteriology topics, including his specialty periodontology, and he was the first Canadian dentist to receive a Doctor of Philosophy in 1920 (2).

Dean Wallace Seccombe
Figure 4: Dean W. Seccombe
Dental research projects increased, but funding was scarce. The Canadian Oral Prophylactic Association, organized by Dr. A.J. MacDonagh provided some priwa for dental research projects via the CDA (4). In 1916 the CDA created a research committee with representatives from all schools to tackle dental research projects. Later, in 1920, the research committee chaired by former dean Dr. Wallace Seccombe, was able to create a fund to support dental research through the Canadian Dental Research Foundation to obtain financial support of research activities (2, 4).

  1. Jackson, H. M. The Story of the Royal Canadian DentalCorps. 1956.
  2. Gullett, D. W. A History of Dentistry in Canada. [Toronto]: Published for the Canadian Dental Association, by University of Toronto Press, 1971.
  3. Webster, A.E. Army Dental Fund of the Canadian Dental Association. Dominion Dental Journal 27 (6): 235-6.
  4. Canadian Dental Association (2002). A century of service: dental technology and research: Part eight of a series. Accessed from 

Figure 1: War Memorial set up by the Dental Museum at the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Comber, Senior Photographer, Faculty of Dentistry 

Figure 2: Portrait of Dr. Albert Edward Webster (Dean, 1915-1923). Photo Courtesy of Jeff Comber, Senior Photographer, Faculty of Dentistry
Figure 3: Portrait of Dr. Harold Keith Box. Courtesy of James Fiege, IITS Manager, Faculty of Dentistry.
Figure 4: Portrait of Dr. Wallace Seccombe (Dean, 1923-1936). Photo Courtesy of Jeff Comber, Senior Photographer, Faculty of Dentistry.

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