COVID Special Issue

Students Collect Oral History of Frontline Workers During Pandemic

HYDE PARK — The Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago announced Monday that it would release a year-long oral history project that it had begun to track the health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The oral history, which was primarily conducted by a group of first-year medical students, tracks the dental health and oral hygiene of a selected group of UChicago Medicine patients through weekly interviews.

Early findings from the report are grim. “The pandemic wreaked total havoc on our oral hygiene,” said Sheila Smith, one of the students responsible for the oral history. “Masks, in particular, have been the worst thing to happen to dental health since the invention of the king-sized candy bar. People don’t have to show their teeth anymore, so they don’t think about them.”

Among its other discoveries, the report found that consumption of alcohol has skyrocketed during the pandemic, slightly mitigating the negative dental health impact of masks. “Alcohol is a natural mouthwash,” noted Dr. Chris Carter, director of the dental program at UChicago Medicine. “For whatever reason, people are drinking a lot more now. I think it’s because they care about their health.”

The report, which was conducted orally and remotely without the help of in-person dental instruments, notes that most of its participants expected to be interviewed about their social or political experiences, which posed a significant challenge for the researchers. “I’d ask someone to report to me about their molars and we’d get an hour-long rant about the Mueller report. We should be more clear about what we mean by ‘oral history’ next time.”

Officials at the Pritzker School, when asked about these difficulties, said “I’m proud of how this study was conducted, and its groundbreaking findings. Was it a waste of our med students’ time? Probably. But that’s what they’re for.”

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