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History of the Royal Army Dental Corps

Origins of the RADC

In 1617 John Woodall, Surgeon General to the East India Company, produced details of the contents of surgical chests, which became regulation pattern for the Armed Forces. The contents included instruments for scaling, gum treatment and extractions; the importance of healthy teeth and the debilitating pain of toothache was clearly recognised. Between 1678 and 1865 a dental standard was enforced and infantrymen and grenadiers were required to demonstrate healthy incisor teeth necessary for biting open the paper cartridge cases and grenades.

In 1857 army surgeons were requested by the Director General Army Medical Services to conserve teeth rather than extract them and instruments were provided specifically for this purpose, although they were somewhat inadequate.‍

Dental specialism

At the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War there was no provision made for dental treatment for the armed forces. Over 2,000 men were evacuated back to the UK on dental grounds whilst almost 5,000 were unfit for duty in the field because of the lack of denture. The British Dental Association repeatedly approached the Secretary of State for War who, in 1901, appointed four contract dental surgeons for the force.

In the years following the Boer War, dentistry was one of the subjects RAMC officers could be graded as specialists — only four were graded and they were never employed in their speciality so the scheme was abandoned.


When the First World War began there were few facilities for dental treatment. In October 1914, during the Battle of the Aisne, the Commander of the First Army suffered severe toothache and found that no British dentist was available to treat him. A request was made to the War Office and 12 dentists were sent to France with temporary commissions in the RAMC. Despite this, almost all treatment for soldiers in the UK was carried out by civilian practitioners. By 1918 there were 850 dental officers of the RAMC and each Casualty Clearing Station had one officer.

A major development of World War One was the maxillo-facial surgery, pioneered by Charles Valadier, Harold Gillies and William Kelsey Fry. Horrific facial injuries were often caused by the nature of trench warfare with the head and face exposed to gunshot wounds and shrapnel injuries.

At first Gillies and Fry worked at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, although the Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup opened in 1917 specifically for facial injuries. The artwork of fellow surgeon, Captain H. Tonks, recorded many of these men before and after treatment.‍

Formation of the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC)

The lack of dental care in the First World War led to the founding of the Army Dental Corps on 4 January 1921.

Dental Surgeons were initially granted a Short Service Commission of six years with the opportunity for selection to a permanent commission whilst servicemen joined for an initial engagement of seven years and went to the Army Dental Corps School of Instruction in Aldershot to train as Dental Mechanics or Dental Clerk Orderlies.‍


In the years following the First World War the ADC established its role and position within the life of the British Army. During the Second World War the ADC expanded rapidly, along with the number of Dental Centres in the UK and in the variety of courses and training available including general anesthesia, dental prosthetics, dental radiography and maxillo-facial.

The Second World War also saw the development of the Mobile Dental Unit, which consisted of a caravan trailer fitted out as a surgery and equipped on the same level as a Dental Centre and staffed by one dental officer and one Dental Clerk Orderly. Many ADC personnel were attached to field ambulances, casualty clearing stations or general hospitals, and, like the RAMC, a substantial number became prisoners-of-war.

In one camp in Singapore, hypnosis was used for tooth extractions, a rare practice in those days.‍

1945 onwards

In 1946 King George VI granted the ‘Royal’ prefix to the Corps and a new cap badge was designed depicting the legend of Cadmus. According to Greek legend, Cadmus found a dragon had killed his soldiers so he slew the dragon with one blow of his sword. When he heard a voice instructing him to extract the dragon’s teeth and sow them in the ground, he immediately obeyed. No sooner were the teeth planted then a crop of men sprang from the soil, fully grown and armed. It is also from this legend that the RADC take their motto, ‘Ex Dentibus Ensis’ (from the teeth a sword).

In 1948 the Depot and Training Establishment was formed at Aldershot providing the Corps with a permanent home.

Trades were restructured and expanded and dental centres became better equipped as the 1950s brought advances in scientific techniques and materials.


Colonel-in-Chief: The Duchess of Gloucester

Corps Day: 4th January

Date of Royal Warrant: 4th January 1921

Current Representative Colonel Commandant: Col. K Richardson

Find out more about the RADC

History of the Royal Army Dental Corps

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