Interview With Melvin L. Tompkins

From the interview with Melvin L. Tompkins of Apopka, FL conducted by Patience Rogge by phone on January 17, 2008.  Mr. Tompkins served in the U.S. Army during World War II. During his 18 months service at Fort Worden, he worked as a dental assistant.  Here he describes dentistry as practiced by the Army in the 1940’s:

                “In college I was preparing to be a dentist, so they wanted me in the dental unit.  I actually looked at the teeth of the whole regiment and did an assessment  of every one.  We had a record on the dental needs of the whole regiment.  I would look at their teeth and look for cavities and problems and put them on a file card.  The dental health of the regiment was pretty average, but we had a whole group from New York whose teeth needed a lot of work.  There was a lot of decay.  My job was to keep the records and I did all the mixing up of the amalgam and the materials the dentists used.  I would prepare the syringes for the deadening of the area where they were going to take out a tooth.  We took out quite a few third molars because at that age, a lot of young people have third molars crowding their other teeth.  We took out quite a few wisdom teeth and filled a lot of cavities, but there were some things that the Army would not do for the troops, like put braces on their teeth or do bridgework.   We used procaine hydrochloride for anesthesia and silver mercury for fillings.”

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