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Administration Finally Addresses Dental Health Stigma Through Dental Health Awareness Week

By Harry Weinstein
Dec. 5, 2018

Last Thursday, Dean John Boyer unveiled a new wellness initiative: Dental Health Awareness Week. Dean Boyer said the campaign was put in place to ensure no student forgets the importance of dental hygiene amid the stress of Finals Week. 

Posters are now up all over the Quad with helpful tips and resources, reminding students to brush their teeth four times daily. In extreme situations, students can now schedule one-on-one appointments with dental health counselors through my.uchicago.edu. 

In an school-wide email, Boyer wrote: “We’ve all been there: camped out in the B-level in the dark from the hours of two to six in preparation for midterm exams and papers, waiting for a security guard to kick you out. While it can be tempting to wait to brush your teeth until you get home at 7:00 a.m., this schedule can actually be detrimental to your hygiene. Waiting so long and then vigorously brushing twice in a short period of time can strip off years of enamel and, in fact, lead to more cavities down the line. Instead, for the sake of your dental health, the administration advises students to bring a toothbrush to the A-level so you can brush at midnight. Give your teeth the imagined feeling you actually are sleeping while you pummel cups of cold, but free, midnight Harper coffee and Clif Builder’s bars in your mouth to stay awake.” 

The Dean recommends students take advantage of their all-nighters for dental hygiene. 

“If you’re going to be up all night in a decreased state of productivity working on a list of things no human being can ever accomplish, you can at least use it to the advantage of your dental health!” 

The administration now tells students to brush their teeth four times a day, on an evenly paced schedule every six hours, the first one at 10:00 a.m. and last at 4:00 a.m. with an iPhone flashlight on, as you hide in the pitch-black of the fourth-floor stacks. 

First-year dental-health advocate Russell Haneman says, “I think it’s really good they’re finally addressing it. Dental health has always carried stigma around campus. It’s really not something you see students willing to talk about, even with close friends.” 

Student organization Active Mouths founder and president, third-year Rachel Wilson, says students often fail to demonstrate sensitivity towards dental health issues. 

“Dental health has become a joke—even though it’s not at all something you joke about," says Wilson. "A lot of times you’ll see students making jokes about their poor hygiene during finals, at the cost of students who actually have really shitty teeth they never brush. I hope for starters this will make students more aware of the harmful impact even self-deprecating, dental-health related jokes can have on the community." 

Boyer added that as a student body, we often overlook the implications of dental health on our overall well-being and academic performance. 

“Will our ‘that kid’ be able to speak as freely every second of class if he’s ashamed of revealing his yellowed teeth stained by Ex Libris coffee and an insufficient brushing schedule? How will he have the confidence to drag out such groundless, esoteric points in six to eight-page SOSC sequence papers if he's self-conscious about the way his teeth look? I mean, does free speech really matter if your breath smells so bad that no one wants to talk to you? In short, if we’re gonna take four years to ruin our students’ mental and physical well-beings otherwise, we might as well leave them with a set of shiny, pearl-white teeth. That’s how my wife fell in love with me. She saw them moving up and down with my lips, flashing at her during forty minutes of platitudes on the demise of the American educational institution in a commencement speech I gave, say, a couple dozen years ago. The rest is history.” 

Inspired by many years of student protest for free tampons, Dean Boyer announced a similar initiative to bring free toothbrushes to every bathroom in the Regenstein Library. 

“It’s part of my new campaign," says Boyer. "Why not finally give the students what they want—but also what they don’t want at all?” 

To welcome all 7,000 incoming and returning students in the coming years, Dean Boyer even plans on offering a free toothbrush for year-round use. In an exclusive interview with a panel of Dealer reporters, Boyer announced: “My goal in life is to make sure we have all 7,000 new and returning students’ 244,000 teeth preserved and white by graduation—that’s 367 more than Harvard’s record the year before WWII.”