"Reports of the dentistry done in South Africa give the following as a year's work of one of the dental surgeons, and, according to the 'Journal of the British Dental Association,' it may be taken to represent an average probably of them all; Cases seen, 1,200; plastic fillings inserted, 1,356; extractions, 2,901. The most defective teeth appear to have been found among the men of the Militia and Yeomanry of the later levies. Many of these men were useless as fighting units through dyspepsia from the moment of starting the campaign diet of tough meat and hard biscuit, as their teeth were hopelessly bad and beyond dental treatment."
It wasn't something I'd given much thought to before; however, I understand that the general situation with poor teeth hadn't improved much by 1914.
FALSE TEETH FOR SOLDIERS.
"The War Office has under consideration the subject of the supply of false teeth to soldiers, and especially recruits for service abroad. It has been officially reported that in regard to 60 per cent. of the rejected volunteers for General Baden-Powell's South African Police, the cause set down was bad teeth, and it now appears that hundreds of applicants for service with the yeomanry in South Africa are being disqualified on the same ground. The dental hospitals of London have conveyed an informal intimation to the Secretary of State for War that they are prepared to make deficiencies good, or to entirely equip men otherwise eligible at £1 per head."
Nottingham Evening Post, Monday 6th January 1902
DENTIST FOR THE COMMON SOLDIER.
"In reply to a question in the Commons by Sir Howard Vincent, Mr Brodrick has furnished the following written reply: The number of men invalided home from South Africa from the beginning of the war for defective teeth is 2451. I have no information to show how many were invalided in South Africa. The subject of improving the dental condition of the rank and file in the army is receiving careful consideration. Appointments of dentists were being made during the war, and we are at present awaiting the results of the experimental measures which have been taken to remedy the conditions complained of."
Edinburgh Evening News, Wednesday 29th October 1902
The second contingent of Leeds Engineers for the front is still unselected. Though 160 members of the corps have asked to be permitted to fight the Boers, considerable difficulty is experienced in finding twenty-five who come up to all the requirements of the War Office. Besides having to be 35 inches round the chest, every man must be a skilled artisan, and have good teeth. Among the 160 applicants there was a surfeit of boot riveters and clickers, tailors, and factory hands. The army, it appears, can do with a very limited number of these craftsmen. Blacksmiths, bricklayers, and carpenters, are more the sort of men that are required, and these are rather scarce.
True, the 160 included a fair proportion of carpenters, but a goodly proportion of them, on being measured round the chest, have been found wanting. For bad teeth, fully a hundred of the applicants have been refused.
"Look her, guv'nor, I don't want to eat the Boers, but to shoot 'em," a rejected volunteer in another city is reported to have exclaimed to the doctor on being informed that he was unfitted for active service because his molars were defective. But that a fighting man should have first-class teeth seems to be of far more importance than the ordinary man-in-the-street imagines. Mr. Percival Leigh, the Leeds dentist, interviewed to-day, reminded our representative that in the Chitral campaign some 25 per cent. of the troops were placed hors-de-combat in consequence of acute dental lesions. In the Soudanese expedition, also, a lot of men could not fight or eat from a similar cause. Lord Kitchener was the first British general to take out a dental surgeon, and this expert did not lack patients either before or after Omdurman.
"Members of my profession (continued Mr. Leigh) strongly protest against the methods and practices of the stupid War Office. I should think at present something like 75 per cent. of the men who desire to join the army are rejected because of defective teeth. I know a large number of otherwise splendidly made young fellows who have been refused as recruits in the Imperial Yeomanry on this account. I cannot for the life of me understand why the War Office do not send such men to some dental hospital to have their teeth put right. The thing is very simple. Teeth well stopped are as effective as if nothing had happened to them. Similarly, we can claim that a man who has a well-fitting set of artificial teeth can perfectly masticate his food. It is very strange that, though men with artificial or stuffed teeth are refused admission to the Army, yet they may go to rack and ruin while on service, and they are permitted to continue in the ranks. The British Dental Association have been urging upon the War Office for some time past to appoint dental officers under the same conditions that they at present engage medical officers. If such a system were in vogue, we could not only materially lessen the number of cases of sickness in the Army, but in the recruiting department we could pass thousands of additional men every year - men who are now rejected for having merely discoloured and dirty teeth."
"It is perfectly true that the conditions in Leeds are not favourable to preserving good teeth. The poisons in the air, and the lack of lime in the water, are both injurious. One finds the best teeth, as a rule, in those districts supplied with the hardest water."