New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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NYU should provide proper dental care

While organizing with the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, the graduate employee union on campus, I have come across many unnecessary dental disasters — Two grad students who spent $5,000 on necessary procedures for their mouths, substandard care from NYU dental students (a four-visit root canal springs to mind) and countless others who have given up professional care altogether. When I returned to my childhood dentist in Toronto after four years without seeing one at NYU, he found a cavity, softening teeth, gingivitis and a trophy wall of plaque.

With a $235 “Stu-Dent” plan we can buy two cleanings a year from dental students and receive light discounts on bigger procedures. But dental students cannot do everything — complex work is both expensive and risky. Dental students pay tuition, the rest of us pay them to experiment on our teeth. NYU is double-dipping in our mouths. Yes, dental students must train and usually service is fine, but why should patients pitch in for this? We deserve proper dental insurance. Teeth are part of the body and should be insured in the same way.

For years I have argued within the union that we should prioritize dental care. Many agreed, while others responded that my attitude reeked of entitlement. However, grad employee unions elsewhere have won real dental insurance. At UMass Amherst, the UAW grad employee contract includes free cleanings and checkups, as well as 65 to 85 percent discounts on other procedures — all from licensed professionals. At NYU, yellow Stockholm syndrome rots our teeth.

Dental decay can be a health hazard. In fact, death and disease from preventable tooth decay is on the rise again in post-recession America. Dental care should not be a luxury.

Is it strange that we treat a chunk of our face as a bodily zone of exception? Or maybe, the situation exemplifies the way decent care is not an inherent property of our health system, but rather a cluster of victories. Like a frustrated Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” we have to keep winning the same fights over and over.

For NYU students, flossing the complacency off of our mashers is just the beginning. Real change will take action. Grads can take the lead by setting a better standard. Through GSOC-UAW we have elected a bargaining committee to negotiate a contract with NYU. We have not yet announced negotiating priorities. There is still time to insist to everyone involved in the union that dental care is a big deal. Talk to your friends. Share horror stories. Get angry. We need a contract with teeth.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 18 print edition. Daniel Aldana Cohen is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]. Learn more about GSOC and share stories at

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    Abigail M WeitzmanFeb 18, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    Last year I paid more than $6,000 out of pocket for dental care. This happened because I had a dental emergency and I did not have proper dental insurance. What is worse, the NYU student dental center requires payment at the time of operation–there is no payment plan. So even if you have the insurance, if you can’t cover your 85% copay, then you’re out of luck.

    Many people misunderstand the importance of dental care and coverage. Damaged teeth that become infected can eventually lead to a jaw infection. Because your jaw is close to your brain, a jaw infection can quickly lead to an infection in your brain, which can, in the absolute worst case scenario, lead to death.

    With all the commercials for floss, and tooth-whitening toothpaste, many Americans adopt the ‘personal responsibility’ narrative when it comes to teeth, but damaged teeth can happen to anyone. They can happen if you are injured in a sport, or a car accident. They can happen if you grind your teeth or clench your jaw. And they can happen if you receive improper dental care.