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One Hundred Years of British Army Dentistry

This year marks one hundred years since the founding of the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC).

Prior to 1921 there had been a steady decline in the dental health of the army. Some 5000 troops during the Boer War were effectively invalided out of the army due to dental problems resulting in malnutrition issues.  
 
During the First World War there were no dentists on the Western Front during the first year of the conflict. Now the RADC can boast around eighty dentists who will operate both in barracks and in the Field Army.  
 
Over the past year the Army’s dental personnel have had to face unique challenges thrown up by the global pandemic.  
 
The Army’s Chief Dental Officer, Colonel Tim Davies explained: “Covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on UK dentistry and in many ways initially it came to a halt however, it didn’t come to a halt with military dentistry. 
 
“Although we were restricted by the availability of PPE, we endeavoured to ensure our military personnel deploying on operations were as dentally fit as possible.  
 
“Yet a backlog did develop and later when PPE became more widely available, we discovered another issue, the requirement to implement a fallow period (an interval between patients of up to an hour long to ensure the room was clear of any virus before reuse).”  
 
The result was that deploying units in isolated locations were in a situation where maintaining dental fitness was difficult due to the lack of local dental surgeries and the requirement for treatment. 
 
Seizing the challenge, the RADC came up with a solution that delivered the necessary treatment to troops in those isolated hotspots with the added benefit of providing deployable training value for its own personnel.  
 
Field Army Portable Dental Units (dental operational field kit). 
 
Tented field dental surgeries were established and with the added advantage of being outdoors under canvas, the fallow period was minimised (almost eradicated) as air flow through the tents was improved.  
 
The concept, once proved through the required healthcare checks at Chester, was then rolled out at Ternhill and Fort George and it became a success in every location.  
 
Today the mobile tented surgery has set up in the grounds of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  
 
The DPHC dental centre at the Academy is currently undergoing refurbishment  however, it remains essential for those setting out on their military careers that they have their initial dental inspection within a certain period.  
 
In order not to disturb the training pipeline of officer cadets going through the Academy, The Royal Army Dental Corps once again turned to the mobile unit that had proved so successful earlier during the pandemic.  
 
Colonel Tim Davies explained: “The benefits to both the Corps and the Academy have been extremely valuable; the training value of working with operational kit in a field environment whilst delivering high quality treatment has been excellent.” 
 
Dental Officer, Captain Katy Trinick will soon be deploying to Kenya on exercise where she will be working using the same field equipment in similar conditions, albeit rather warmer and dustier than a chilly spring morning in Sandhurst. She said: “For me as a Dental Officer, and all the team, this has provided an invaluable hands-on experience of working in a field environment which I’ll certainly take forward with added confidence when I deploy.” 
 
Summing up how the Royal Army Dental Corps responded over the past months to the needs of the Army and how it confronted the challenges it faced through the turmoil of Covid-19, Chief Dental Officer, Colonel Tim Davies remarked: “This is a great example of Defence Primary Healthcare and Field Army working together; I think this has been an immense step forward for forces dentistry. 
 
“It has proved the agility and flexibility of the personnel in the Corps and also the fact that we are prepared to step out and do something a bit different to provide care for our forces and make it work for our personnel and Defence.”