The History of Dentistry: The Royal Army Dental Corps

The History of Dentistry: The Royal Army Dental Corps

100 years since the end of The Great War

Today is the centenary of the cessation of hostilities at the end of the First World War. A war in which the British and Empire Army was so large that it employed 850 dentists, just on the Western Front (in France and Belgium).

Badge of the Royal Army Dental Corps

The badge of the Royal Army Dental Corps

In the first couple of decades of the 20th Century (after the 2nd Boer war), oral health was recognised as a crucial part of ensuring troops were fit and effective in combat.

This article takes a quick look at the history of the Army (later Royal Army) Dental Corps.

In the beginning

As with most things military, dental treatment was introduced to solve a problem. Originally, in the 17th Century, that problem was musketeers needed to use their front teeth to open the gunpowder cartridge used to load their muskets. Bad front teeth meant they couldn’t reload quickly enough, so the teeth of recruits were inspected, creating one of the army’s first medical standards.

Graphic - Timeline of the Royal Army Dental Corps

History of the Royal Army Dental Corps (source: Royal Army Dental Corps)

By the time of the 2nd Boer War (11 Oct 1899 – 31 May 1902) the state of British teeth had become a threat to the British Empire. Records show that of 69,553 recruits who had a medical inspection, 4,400 were not accepted because of “loss or decay of many teeth.”

Over 200,000 soldiers served in that war, and 6,900 were hospitalised because of dental problems. This meant the War Office had to hire four dentists – the first professional dentists to serve the British army.

By the end of the First World War, 850 dentists looked after the army’s soldiers, and in 1921 the army formed a permanent Dental Corps.

Dental Surgery - this one part of the D-Day landings campaign from 1944

A Bedford QL Mobile Dental Surgery ready for the D-Day landings (Operation Overlord) in 1944

Second World War

By 1940, Army Dental Corps personnel were attached to field ambulance units, hospitals and casualty clearing centres on every battlefront. Wherever British and Commonwealth soldiers were engaged, so was the ADC. Their role as always was to keep soldiers fit and healthy for battle. They also assisted with injuries and rehabilitation – particularly involving facial and head wounds that compromised the mouth and jaw.

The work of the Corps was recognised in 1946 by a change of name. A Special Army Order approved the title of Royal Army Dental Corps, and that is the name it still uses.

RADC on a humanitarian deployment in Kenya

RADC on a humanitarian deployment in Kenya (source: Royal Army Dental Corps)

Post-war and today

The Royal Army Dental Corps has been involved in every major conflict since the 2nd World War. It has served in places such as the Falklands, Korea, Kosovo and Iraq. However, like most of the Army, it is frequently deployed on humanitarian operations such as the fight against the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.

Uniformed dentists and dental nurses are stationed at most barracks and bases as part of the joint-service Defence Dental Service. They are frequently supported by civilian staff. In fact, about half of the Army’s dental staff based in the UK are civilians.

Royal Army Dental Corps Field Hospital

Royal Army Dental Corps Field Hospital (source: Royal Army Dental Corps)

Fancy joining?

The Royal Army Dental Corps recruits both qualified and trainee dentists and dental nurses as uniformed staff.

Dentists must undergo initial officer training at Sandhurst Military College and are commissioned as a Major upon passing out.

Dental nurses must undergo basic army training at Aldershot and assume the rank of Corporal upon completion and qualification. Full-time uniformed staff are usually posted to a base for two or three years. As a professional soldier, they can be deployed on operations at short notice. The Corps also recruits part-time reservists.

If that sounds a little too adventurous for you, try a civilian post. Qualified dentists and nurses can apply for a variety of posts at specific bases and barracks across the country. But a word of warning for anyone with a murky past: the security vetting is the same for every post from civilian nurse to army officer recruit and takes AGES.

More careers information can be found at:

What that means to us

All branches of the military have played a major role in changing attitudes, policy, professionalisation and provision of dental services in the UK. The Army is no exception. 100-years after the end of the First World War, the “War to end all wars”, we still need an army and it still needs dental services. Those services offer better quality treatment than at any time before.

Picture of a British Legion PoppyThis article is our acknowledgement of the service and sacrifice of the dentists and nurses who have provided professional dental services to the British Army over the last 100 years.

We don’t supply software to the Army – that’s a bespoke MoD system. However, we do provide excellent software to civilian dental practices. If you would like more information about Pearl Dental Software, please call us on 0116 275 9995 email us at:


Chris Webb