Everyday Heroes: Project 32 spreads the message of good oral hygiene, one brush at a time

Avi Gupta, center, took his message of good oral hygiene and hundreds of dental kits to an orphanage in India in 2016. (Project 32)

Regular brushing twice a day leads to good oral health. But the benefits go beyond making fewer trips to the dentist.

Two-and-a-half years ago, a student at Catlin Gabel school decided to take that message -- and dental supplies -- to children in remote corners of the globe.

A story on an India website in 2016 caught then sophomore Avi Gupta's eye.

Forty-nine children at a government-run orphanage were forced to use the same toothbrush.

"So you have 49 disabled children in these government-run orphanages,” Gupta said. “That was absolutely shocking to me. I realized what a big problem oral health and dental hygiene is, not only in India but worldwide and even here in the United States.”

And so, before a planned family trip to see relatives in India, Gupta emailed every Portland dentist he could find on Yelp asking for any extra brushes and toothpaste they could spare.

“I was just amazed at the number of supplies we were able to get. I think it was about fifteen hundred (toothbrushes,)” he said. “I took as many of those that I could fit into a duffel bag there with me.

He formed a partnership in India with government officials and had the toothbrushes handed out at the orphanage.

"After the success of that event and the impact we made, I was inspired to turn this one-off effort into a sustainable organization," Gupta said.

Project 32 -- that's the number of teeth in a healthy adult -- was formed: A student-run, social startup to combat dental disease.

“It’s not only a health issue, but it’s also a social issue, a societal issue, one that we try to address, not only providing the supplies needed to brush your teeth but also the education and inspiration,” Gupta said.

After India, Gupta took dental hygiene supplies to kids in Guatemala and Haiti.

And at home Project 32 is addressing the needs of the children of migrant workers.

They're also expanding into Portland-area schools.

“If you have someone who’s their own age, who’s a peer of theirs, educating and inspiring them to take care of themselves, that’s much more powerful and effective,” he said.

Gupta says he and fellow students plan to open new Project 32 chapters on their college campuses and beyond.

"I didn’t realize before I started doing this work how important oral health is, and I think a lot of people still don’t realize how important taking care of your teeth is. That’s why we’re trying to do this work," he said.

The group's efforts can have a ripple effect. During the trip to Guatemala, one young boy brushed his teeth and then quickly ran home to show his mother how to brush her teeth.

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