Dental History Fun Facts

Booker T. Washington and his emphasis on good oral hygiene...

February is the month in the year we celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month as well as Black History Month.  A true American hero is Booker T. Washington, who has a connection to both.

Washington is remembered most commonly for his role as the Architect, Builder, and first President of The Tuskegee Institute, now known as Tuskegee University. This Institution provided the post-Civil War African-American population with a place to live and receive a practical industrial education coupled with an academic education, regardless of their ability to pay. But he was also the man who reverently preached “The Gospel of The Toothbrush” to his students. He believed that utilizing a toothbrush was the first step in being civilized.  Washington learned “The Gospel of The Toothbrush” as a student at Hampton Institute in Virginia. The leader of the Institution was General Samuel C. Armstrong, another true American hero and the man most revered by Washington, was the first preacher of this gospel.

Booker T. Washington believed so strongly in “The Gospel of The Toothbrush”, that no student could stay who didn’t use one.  It was not unusual for a student at Tuskegee to have no possessions or money whatsoever, but would somehow acquire a toothbrush after hearing about Mr. Washington’s gospel, just to attend.  Indeed, one time Mr. Washington went to the room of a trio of new students who typically had very little money. Upon welcoming them, one spoke up so proudly.  We all pitched in so we would have this, proudly showing him the toothbrush they would share. I am sure that with a twinkle in his eye, he carefully explained that sharing this gospel, was not quite the way it was meant to work.

Booker T. Washington served with Great Vision, Wisdom, Dignity, Distinction, and Humility as the President of The Tuskegee Institute until his premature death in 1915 at the age of 59.  He was a tremendous example of how to be an American, a man, and more importantly, a human being.  He truly is one of my heroes.

David E. Coatney, DDS

February 29, 20