The New Zealand Dental Corps was formed on 7 November 1915 as part of New Zealand’s contribution to World War 1. The corps was formed from personnel who were transferred from the New Zealand Medical Corps, who were charged with ensuring the dental fitness of New Zealand troops being sent overseas, and for the provision of emergency dental care in the field. The royal designation was adopted in 1947. Today, the corps consists of full-time and part-time commissioned officers and soldiers who are employed in a tri-service environment, using their specialist skills and knowledge as dental officers, dental hygienists and dental assistants.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 found the New Zealand Dental Corps poor in strength but rich in theory. On 6 September 1939, three days after the declaration of war, Cabinet authorised the mobilisation of a Special Force of 6600 men to serve within or beyond New Zealand. Volunteers for this force were immediately dentally examined according to plan. Within two weeks, the results showed that the number falling into dental category ‘F’ was so low that too many otherwise medically fit men were being rejected for dental reasons. The standard for acceptance was then lowered by including in category ‘F’ those whose treatment to make them dentally fit would take six instead of three hours. Even then, many men who were medically fit were rejected because of dental defects. The added burden to the civilian dentists by this change of standard and the rejection of valuable manpower gave impetus to the Army’s programme for the construction of dental hospitals in the mobilisation camps and the formation of a Corps capable of undertaking full treatment of all troops.
It has been estimated that 50 to 60 per cent of New Zealand WW2 troops were wearers of artificial dentures of some kind. All these artificial dentures were made from a substance called vulcanite.
In 1843, the American Charles Goodyear discovered how to make flexible rubber, named vulcanite, which he made from India rubber (caoutchouc). In 1851, his brother, Nelson, patented an improved manufacturing process to produce hard rubber. Vulcanite found instant use in the fabrication of denture bases world-wide and quickly replaced previously-used materials as it was cheaper. Vulcanite starts out as a soft, rubber-sulphur compound. It fits precisely to a model of a patient’s gums and palate. The main disadvantage was that the material was dark-red colour. To obtain the pink colour, to resemble gum, weakened the vulcanite.
In my collection I have a very interesting NZ Dental Corps badge that has been made out of this substance, vulcanite.
The reverse of this badge shows that loops have been added meaning that it could have been worn as a cap badge.
I do not know why this badge was made, if it was just an experiment to see if it could be done or was it a legitimate way a serviceman could replace a lost badge. Rather than go to the Engineers workshops and use sandcasting with brass, did they use a much lighter and more readily available substance to achieve this? I have seen another example of one of these badges in another collectors items so I know there are more examples out there, just not how many.
For comparison here is the normal brass, pre-1947, NZ Dental Corps cap badge .
The back of the same badge showing the mounting loops.