Oral Hygiene Habits of the Interesting: U.S. Navy SEAL J. Robert DuBois

"I've worked with foreign forces on their bases where the only water they had was a thread-thin trickle of cold water from a shower head. Needless to say, a shower took a very long time... but we still took them."
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Q: During your SEAL missions how did care for your mouth?

A: My primary SEAL missions were:

Special reconnaissance: I was only in the field a few days at a time and would just ignore brushing.

Liaison: I was engaging with foreign commanders and sometimes using different languages; that work would find me around the world, sleeping in five-star hotels or at least a nice, comfy metal box in a combat zone... Oral hygiene was just like at home: brush morning and night, floss nightly.

Terrorism Vulnerability Assessment: I spent a few years traveling to two assessment sites each month, and I carried a travel kit with the same gear as I would have at home.


Q: Do you avoid certain food or drink the day of a mission because of the way it may make you perform your mission?

A: Nope. When we're in the field we tend to be too focused on the mission to care about the niceties of food types. Most guys just subsist on MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat) with Power Bars to supplement a little taste and texture. My case is special, though. My platoon nickname was "Goat," based on my ability/tendency to eat whatever passed for food in any country and environment we found ourselves. I don't seek out nasty foods, but when moldy or bug-infested old stuff is all that could be found, I could be found eating it. In Uzbekistan, for example, every member of my platoon got violently ill from the local fare even though I kept showing up at the Uzbek soldiers' dining facility for my daily dose of rotten bread and meat. The physical condition of my teammates was not suitable for prime time description.

Q: Do you bear any significant scars from your time as a SEAL?

A: In BUD/S (SEAL training) we go for weeks of running, swimming, and carrying things: inflatable boats, logs... instructors. When the body is constantly exposed to salt water, sand and motion, some of the more sensitive areas tend to get chafed much more than usual. Add to this that SEAL trainees develop powerful thigh muscles from all the running, swimming and carrying. The end result is that our inner thighs are worn straight down to raw meat, as are our scalps from carrying all those boats. If you look at almost any "frogman's" thighs you can find those scars. (And some of the scalps never recover their full plumage, too -- viz me.)

Q: What is the longest mission a SEAL would endure without the conveniences of hygiene?

A: The longest mission without the conveniences of "home" (or a tent on a base somewhere) would be about a month. That would be rare, because most of our missions start from some form of base and we fly or drive or go via sea to a job, then return. We're much more mobile than your traditional conventional forces, who might be in the field for months without running water.

Q: What are the conditions like on tent bases or foreign remote bases?

A: I've worked with foreign forces on their bases where the only water they had was a thread-thin trickle of cold water from a shower head. Needless to say, a shower took a very long time... but we still took them. We would also bathe in their training "pool" or the nearby lake, which had frigid water.

Q: Did you develop a craving for bathing and hygiene when it was not accessible?

A: Of course anyone who goes a few days of hard work without bathing, as we sometimes do, will end up pretty ripe. But I've never known a SEAL who wouldn't grab soap and water at his first opportunity. But we always wash up AFTER we clean our team and personal gear, first! Clean equipment will save your life.

For more by Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S., click here.

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