A Legion of Teeth

My previous blog post discussed the article, “The Painful Truth About Teeth”. I specifically highlighted many of the issues and flaws that we have in our current healthcare system which prevent certain individuals from being able to receive the dental care that they need.

Throughout Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, the word “teeth” comes up many times, often to describe the condition of the skels. One particular quote prompted me to equate the infected skels to Matello and the many other Americans who do not possess any form of dental insurance and lack the means of seeking proper dental care. “They’d wrestle Mark Spitz out of his fatigues the way he’d pried meat out of the claws, tails, shells. They were a legion of teeth and fingers” (Whitehead 20). The use of “legion of teeth” made me imagine an endless line or a massive pile of teeth, similar to the countless number of people in this powerless position with their lives dragging and persisting, similar to the lives of the skels. These individuals have no means of seeking dental care and have little to no opportunities or avenues available to them to escape this life. Likewise, the skels are left to live in their second lives with no hope of escaping and seeking peace.

Additionally, in one of Mark’s dreams, he describes the skels and specifically the condition of their teeth. He says the dead are “with flies skittered on their faces searching for a soft flap to bury eggs in, shreds of human meat wedged in their front teeth like fabled spinach” (Whitehead 108). One of the first things we notice about someone is the condition of their teeth, and we are quick to judge them based on this. If someone has nice, pearly white teeth we might think that they are hygienic, clean, proper, and care about their appearance. On the other hand, someone with yellow or rotting teeth may be considered as an individual who does not give as much important to these things. Is this right? Is it right for us to make this assumption about people just based on the appearance of their teeth? In my opinion, no, this is not how we should be judging people. Individuals’ “front teeth like fabled spinach” might be like this for a number of different reasons, including the reason behind Matello having problems with her teeth, which is due to limited access to dental care and a lack of dental insurance.

I feel that Whitehead is attempting to shine light on the issue of dental care in the United States and how dental treatment is not easily accessible to everyone, just a select few. Our teeth are part of our body and no one should be ashamed or embarrassed by their body, nor should others judge people solely by their exterior. Instead, it is vital for us young civilians to voice our concerns on behalf of the “legion” of individuals in serious need of care.

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