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Kristin Hohman serves as Associate Editor for DPR.
Although the first U.S. dental corps wasn’t established until the early 20th century, the military has a long history of dental service members. Prior to World War I, most servicemembers received dental care from civilians and had to pay for the care themselves. It wasn’t until the Civil War and the Spanish-American War that the need for oral healthcare for soldiers became apparent. To commemorate Veteran’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of some interesting facts about the history of dentistry in the military.
Considered the father of the Army Dental Corp., Dr John Marshall was the first dental surgeon appointed to the US Amry and the first commissioned officer in the Amry Dental Corps in 1911.1 Born in County Kent, England in 1846, Dr Marshall and his family immigrated to the US. He served in the 2nd New York Calvary during the Civil War and following his military service, Dr Marshall received his medical degree from the University of Syracuse in 1876.2
In February 1901, Congress passed an act authorizing the employment of dental surgeons in the Army, which also created the Board of Examining and Supervising Dental Surgeons.2 The executive committee of the National Dental Association (the post-Civil War name for the ADA), recommended Dr Marshall for this board, and he served as president of the examining board that organized this newly authorized form of service.2 It was during this time that Dr Marshall wrote what is widely considered the most important reports of early military dentistry; Organization of the Dental Corps of the United States Army, with Suggestions upon the Educational Requirements of Military Dental Practice detailed educational requirements for military dental service and the broader organization of the Dental Corps, among other things.1
It was this post that allowed Dr Marshall a unique perspective on the state of dental education in the United States. He reached this conclusion: “The result of these examinations, it seems to me, prove very conclusively that there is great need for raising the standard of entrance requirements of our dental colleges, and for lengthening the course of instruction to four years, so as to be able to devote more time to theoretical teaching.” These standards did not change for nearly another decade, making Dr Marshall’s observations ahead of his time.1
On March 3, 1911, the U.S. Army Dental Corps of commissioned officers was established with the passage of Public Law No. 453, 36 Stat, 1054.3 This law stated that dental officers could not be above the rank of first lieutenant with less pay than military physicians.3 Cilivian dentists lobbied to upgrade the rank and pay to be more comparable to military physicians. This had a major impact on dentistry as a profession. Before military dental corps authorization, the words ‘dental profession’, ‘dentistry’, and ‘dental surgeon’ had no recognition under the law. The U.S. government set precedent for the official recognition of dentistry as a profession.3
In 1927, the 3 Central Dental Laboratories were established to produce dental appliances and prostheses.3 They were located at the Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. (now known as Walter Reed Army Medical Center), Ft. Sam Houston in Texas, and Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco.3
Only 3 military dentists have won the Medal of Honor (MOH), the highest honor for military service personnel. Lt. Junior Grade Weedon Osborne (pictured) was a U.S. Navy Dental Surgeon who was awarded the MOH for trying to carry a wounded soldier to safety during a battle in France during World War I.4
Alexander G. Lyle was serving as a dental officer with the U.S. Marine Corps. On the French front during World War I. He received a rare version of the MOH known as the Tiffany Cross for saving the life of a fellow soldier.4
Capt. Benjamin L. Salomon was a U.S. Army dentist during World War II. He served as a frontline surgeon in Saipan. When the medical tent was overrun with enemy soldiers, Capt. Salomon defended wounded soldiers as they escaped.5