The New Zealand Dental Services
AT the end of the 1914–18 War all dental stores and equipment were disposed of by tender, with the result that for several years the Defence Department held no stocks at all. This was the position when the Dental Corps was reorganised in 1934, when the Territorial camps were asking for treatment and the Corps was keen to undergo training. An approach to the Department for supplies produced a reply that made it abundantly clear that, unless the Corps could supply its own, it might as well fold up its tents and creep silently away. The Quartermaster-General was emphatic on the subject in a minute to the Under-Secretary of Defence on 17 October 1934:
The Department has no dental equipment or stores and Dental Officers will bring their own equipment to the camps they attend. The cost of any expendable stores (Drugs, filling materials and so forth) expended in the camp will be met by the Department. … As soon as the Department is in a position to do so, dental equipment will be provided as part of the war equipment necessary on mobilization. The equipment necessary for work in peacetime camps will then be provided. In view however of the extensive deficiencies that have to be made good in the war equipment of combatant units, the provision of dental equipment must be relegated to a low priority and will not be possible in the ordinary course of events for some time.
In the face of this rebuff, the DDS decided to approach the Director of the Division of Dental Hygiene of the Department of Health, who controlled the Government dental clinics for the treatment of school children by dental nurses. The Department's store only carried stocks applicable to this limited scope of treatment but had exceptional purchasing facilities in which the Corps hoped to share. The result was that enough materials were obtained to enable six dental sections to carry out urgent treatment at the Territorial camps and six metal panniers in which to pack them. The dental officers continued to provide their own instruments, but chairs were lent by private practitioners, dental trading houses and the Otago University Dental School.
In April 1935, through further efforts by the DDS, Cabinet approval was obtained for the expenditure of £140 to provide:
Seven travelling dental engines.
Seven dental students' cabinets.
Seven folding wooden chairs.
Seven spirit sterilisers with stands.
With the exception of the chairs, which were made to order by the Public Works Department, this was all got from the Health Department.
Approval was then obtained to manufacture seven field dental surgical panniers and seven field dental prosthetic panniers. These were made at the Ordnance Workshops at Trentham to the design of the DDS, who had used the same type in the 1914–18 War with marked success. They were ready by December 1935 and were distributed early in 1936.
The pannier is a container for equipment and stock. To facilitate transport, it is of a standard size, standard weight both full and empty and has distinctive markings. The Government Dental Department used metal panniers and these were quite satisfactory where civilian transport was used and weight was a secondary consideration. In the field, however, ease of movement and identification were important so the new ones were made of 3-ply (later 5-ply) wood, covered with canvas for protection and were suitably painted and branded. The prosthetic pannier was a plain box, but the surgical one was ingeniously partitioned to hold a portable dental engine, student's cabinet, and other stores and equipment of specified quantity and weight.
The chair was carried in a canvas case along with miscellaneous articles such as a folding table, hurricane lamp, canvas basin and blankets.
Until September 1936, the necessary field equipment was gathered from many sources. Dental instruments, however, still had to be supplied by the officers themselves.
Early in 1938 the DDS drew up a Peace Equipment Table which gave full details of the contents of a surgical pannier and chair case. As yet the prosthetic pannier was not to be equipped. Dental sections were then authorised to indent to bring their outfits up to full content. This was accomplished by December.
And so, after four years of great effort, the nucleus of a dental store was built up. But this was for peace requirements and the dove of peace was rapidly moulting. Munich came and went, with none but the most ingenuous believing in its bona fides. The next step was to prepare a list of stores that would be required in the event of mobilisation for war. This was submitted to Army Headquarters by the DDS in August 1939 and became the basis of the War Equipment Table. It was too late, however, for in the meantime the Government had severely restricted imports and the supply houses, while holding reasonable stocks for everyday needs, could not place unlimited orders at will, or even any orders except under an import licence. The Assistant Directors of Dental Services each had a schedule of what was required and found out what was avail- page 85 able from the supply houses and from private practitioners by gift, loan or purchase, but this was a precarious source of supply as well as being only temporary. It was a wise move, however, as when buying began, the state of the market was thoroughly known.