Confederate Dentistry Last week I was watching A Southern Yankee, a Red Skelton flick from 1948.  It was howlingly funny, following the misadventures of Red as a Saint Louis hotel bellboy who gets mixed up in espionage for the Union.  One sequence had Red having two teeth pulled by Confederate dentists.  That got me curious as to whether the Confederacy actually had dentists among their medical officers.  They did, unlike the Union which firmly rejected any suggestion that dentists be made medical officers.   While Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, Davis had attempted to establish unsuccessfully a dental unit in the Army. Dentists were appointed in the Confederate Army as early as 1861 and with conscription of dentists they became fairly common in Confederate military hospitals, providing extractions, fillings and the cleaning of teeth.  The Confederate dentists stressed dental hygiene and the use of toothbrushes by the troops.  Several Confederate dentists did pioneering work in root canals.   They also aided in the treatment of gunshot wounds to jaws and mouths, using facial splints to help avoid disfigurement while the wounds were healing. During the War the Confederates established a proud record of accomplishing much with meager resources.  In regard to military dentistry they not only did that, but were pioneers, as opposed to the Union which, with far more dentists and supplies, simply ignored the need for dental care among the troops.

Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 10:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. Field-Marshal Montgomery was once asked what was the worst disagreement he had ever had with Winston Churchill. He answered: as the armies were being made ready for the Normandy landings, Churchill went through the list of required material for the first day’s landings and found, “two dentists’ chairs.” He stormed around to Montgomery and asked why effort should be wasted on such irrelevances as people would be being killed by the hundreds to establish a foothold. Montgomery stared right back and answered: “Prime Minister, a soldier with toothache is no good to me – he can’t fight. Good day!.” Perhaps the fact that Jefferson Davis had plenty of real fighting experience, and that Lincoln had almost none, may have led the Southern authorities to a more realistic view of what soldiers needed.

    • Yeah, I remember about Montgomery and the Dentist chairs. Churchill was old enough to regard dentists as something of an effete luxury rather than essential medical treatment. I have had problems all my life with my teeth so I am definitely on Monty’s side.

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