1001 Uses For Dental Floss # 52- Greek Myths

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The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (and Dental Floss)

You may have heard of the Minotaur, a half-man, half bull creature kept in the Labyrinth by Minos, the King of Crete. According to Greek myth, the Labyrinth was an artificial cave with winding, intersecting tunnels and blind ends so that no one who went in could ever unravel its secret pathways and escape, built by the engineer Daedalus (whose son, Icarus, you may also remember, flew too near the sun with waxed wings Daedalus had designed.)

According to this legend, Minos’s wife, Queen Pasiphae, who came from the city of Athens, slept with a bull (there’s a lot of bull in this tale) who was sent to her by Zeus, the top God of ancient Greek mythology. After this, Minos’ son went to Athens to take part in the Panathenaic Games (something like the Olympics) and was killed by the very bull that had impregnated Minos’ wife. Understandably pretty angry, but mindful that Zeus was not a god to be trifled with, Minos captured the Minotaur (his stepson) but didn’t have it killed.

Instead he placed the bull-man in the labyrinth. From Athens, Minos every year demanded seven young men and women from that city as a punishment, and also to avoid a plague (great excuse) and confined them to the labyrinth, where the Minotaur found them and ate them. Pretty gruesome story, but that’s the type the ancient Greeks loved to tell to their children.
Minotaur, half man – half bull
Anyway, long story short, Theseus in the third year decided to take on the Minotaur by offering himself up. After entering the cave, and using dental floss given to him by Ariadne, daughter of Minos, who had fallen for him and was a dental hygienist by trade, he laid down a trail that he could follow out later. So, kids, believe it or not, Theseus confronted the Minotaur and killed him and escaped from the labyrinth by following the trail of floss. That’s not where the story ends, but you’ll have to look the rest up.

It’s complicated.

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1001 Uses For Dental Floss #51- Floss In Space

Space dentistry, the final frontier. No, not really, fellow Trekkies, but studies on dentistry in the space environment have already begun.

Indian dentist Balwant Rai grew up fascinated by space and the stars. He watched the sky at night (“Balwant, time for bed! Stopping staring up into the sky. It’ll make your neck stiff!” his mother would chastise him. (I’m making this up, actually paraphrasing my own mother, and hope he takes all this in good humour.) Once in bed, he dreamt about merging the studies of dentistry and the universe into one discipline: aeronautic dentistry, which would deal with dental care during space travel.

journal-of-aeronautics-aerospace-engineering-balwant-rai-5930

From the time he was knee-high to an alien grasshopper, Dr. Rai wanted to be an astronaut, and once he became a dentist he began to study the effects of space on the oral cavity (a fancy term we dentists use to say “mouth”) Simulating the environment of space, he conducted experiments in microgravity and in conditions like those on Mars. He designed the first college course on space dentistry in 2006.

Under these conditions, he found that humans would experience swelling of the face, changes in their sense of taste, abnormal facial expressions (whatever that means), and tooth pain, dry mouth, gum disease, tooth decay, stones in ducts of the salivary glands,precancer and cancer of the mouth, and fractures of the bones of the upper and lower jaws. Pretty scary, really.

Anyone willing to sign up for that one way mission to Mars set for about 2030? Imagine a toothache all the way to Mars.

According to Dr. Rai, aeronautic dentistry (shouldn’t it be called astronautic dentistry?) is looking for answers the following questions:

How to manage if an astronaut has an abscess, a broken tooth, or a jaw fracture during a mission.

Should one or more of the staff (presumably one with medical training) on board a space vessel have special training in providing dental treatment, along with other medical activities,

Should standardized techniques be specially modified for the space environment? What dental equipment would have to be included in a space mission? Would laser techniques or other technologies be more appropriate for space? What about taking xrays- how to keep everything steady? For example, modern dental treatment requires the use of a fine water spray to remove debris and keep the operative area clean.A cloud of bacteria-laden water droplets would have to be controlled so that it doesn’t contaminate surfaces and other humans or get into sensitive electronic equipment. The same precautions might also apply to brushing and flossing.

Should all space travellers have to have a thorough dental exam and comprehensive dental care before being allowed to come on board a spaceship?

How an astronaut can maintain proper oral hygiene during extraterrestrial missions, including the mission to Mars. How would they rinse, or spit? What could be done if they run out of dental floss on the way to Jupiter?

What are the effects of extraterrestrial environments (increased radiation, a lack of gravity, restrictions on certain foods, stomach upset) on the oral cavity?

And what about those weird alien teeth we always see in science fiction movies, like “Alien”? Whose going to look after them?

One last thought: if Dr. Leonard McCoy of the original Star Trek series was nicknamed “Bones”. What should Dr. Rai be called?

References:
Rai B, Kaur J (2011) The history and importance of aeronautic dentistry. J Oral Sci 53(2):143-6

Balwant Rai is a leading expert in aeronautic and space dentistry. He developed the first college course in aeronautic dentistry in 2006, and has since conducted several experiments under microgravity conditions. His studies mainly focus on the effects of microgravity on the human body. Balwant has published many articles on aeronautic dentistry, and he was selected for crew 78 in the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) as health and safety officer and crew 100B as commander, emergency physician and biomedical scientist. Contact him at <raibalwant29@rediffmail.com>.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #50- Ancient Weeds Prevented Tooth Decay

By looking at the remains of a prehistoric people living in what is now Sudan, scientists have found bits of a particularly bitter-tasting weed inside the dental calculus (hard deposits) sticking to their teeth. This plant is known to inhibit the growth of Streptoccus mutans, a bacterium which causes tooth decay in humans, but is high in carbohydrates, so it would be a good energy source and would have caused tooth decay if not for its antibacterial properties, although for us moderns, its bitter taste is unlikely to make it a big hit in the toothpaste aisle of your favourite drug store. The cavity rate in the ancients who chewed this plant was surprisingly low (around 1%), while at other locations where this plant wasn’t eaten the rate of tooth decay was much higher – 5%.

So, here’s evidence that it was possible for ancients to reduce their rates of decay by eating the right foods, but unfortunately this wouldn’t work for us – we eat much more sugar and our tolerance for unpalatable food is pretty low. We have to rely on watching our sugar intake, and on preventing decay by brushing and flossing, but if we get a cavity, we have something these ancients didn’t – at least there’s no archeological evidence so far – dentists.

ancient-dental-hygiene-01_81700_990x742 http://t.co/haUO3upSHc

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #49- A $500,000,000 Lawsuit

In 2012, a number of county jail inmates filed a $500 million lawsuit against Westchester County in New York State, after being denied dental floss, claiming that the result was dental decay and gum disease. There have been reports that prisoners escaped using ropes braided out of dental floss (yes, it’s really happened, and many times. See 1001 Uses #1 for the report. There have also been stories of prisoners using the floss to strangle each other, to saw through jail cell bars, with tooth paste as the abrasive that would do the job (questionable, really, and it would probably take years of sawing if this could really work), and the floss container as well as tooth brushes can be modified for use as a weapon. Some inmates are very creative, and I suppose they’ve got a lot of time on their hands to think these things up and then do them. Jail officials cite these security issues, saying there’s more at stake than oral hygiene.

I haven’t seen any news about how this lawsuit worked out. So far, as far as I know, there’s no constitutional amendment that mandates the right to bear floss. All the paperwork probably gave these convicts a chance to get the guards with papercuts, though, or maybe escape on a giant taped-together paper airplane.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #48- Removing Loose Baby Teeth

Did you ever wonder how to get that really loose tooth out of you child’s mouth without going to the dentist or letting nature take its course? We’ve all heard of the homemade way of pulling out a loose baby tooth by putting a loop of floss around it and attaching the other end to a door knob, and…slam! Ouch!

Some parents are much more creative than that. One parent attached the far end to a golf ball, then sent the tooth down the fairway. Another tied it to the bumper of his car (really, he actually did) and with his kid sitting on a lawn chair behind the car, gunned the engine and took off down the driveway. One very innovative approach used a remote-controlled model airplane, another used a running dog. All very wild and crazy ways that parents with love in their hearts do cruel things to their children.

There’s also the baseball technique (I won’t describe it- use your imagination if you dare), the rocket technique (pretty unpredictable) which may be how NASA engineers do it (well, no, it’s actually a model rocket that does the work), the mini-motorcycle technique (I  want to unknow this one), the Nerf gun method, and, not to be believed but documented, the tractor pull.

I don’t recommend any of these, especially since the tooth might not be as loose as you think and the method fails; your child will never forgive you. If in doubt, there’s one person who knows: the dentist.

Use the floss for what it was intended.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #47- Plastic Beads In Toothpaste (What?!)

My daughter Rebecca found this article about tiny plastic beads in certain varieties of Crest toothpaste, apparently put there by the manufacturer to give the toothpaste its blue colour. As some of us may know, there is great controversy in the inclusion of plastic beads as an abrasive in some “invigorating” body wash soaps, supposedly as a scrub enhancement or exfoliating agent. They wash down the drain and into large bodies of water like the Great Lakes and our oceans.

These beads, made of the polyethylene, have been found in the bodies of plankton, tiny sea creatures which are an important part of the marine food chain, and have been adversely affected by them, as they may block their digestive tracts, causing them to starve to death. These little animals are eaten by larger creatures, such as fish, and the beads progressively work their way up the food chain. The plastic also has the sponge-like property of soaking up pollutants like motor oil and pesticides. On the positive side, polyethylene doesn’t contain bisphenyl A, so it seems to be safe from that standpoint (that is, it doesn’t contain this hormonal disruptor.)

Although the plastic beads in this brand of toothpaste are much smaller and so may be less of a threat to the aquatic ecosystem, we don’t really know. What we do know is that in people, these tiny plastic bits have been found in the gingival crevice, the narrow space between the gum and the tooth, and are difficult if not impossible to dislodge. This happened to my daughter.

Although regulators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have approved the use of these plastic beads, as there is no real evidence that they’re dangerous to health, no comment has been received from the Environmental Protection Agency, I guess because no one asked. On the other hand, they have no  health benefits. Many dentists, though, are questioning the possible effects of the beads retained below the gum, as they fear that they may form a surface which harbours oral bacteria, and so may endanger the health of the gums.  So far, no scientific inquiries have been carried out to test this possibility, which means that the effect is unknown, not that it is nonexistent. I don’t tend to be alarmist, but these plastics don’t  break down naturally, and they’re not biodegradable.

The use of these beads has been banned in Illinois.

Crest put out a statement recently that it has begun phasing out microbeads from its products, a process that will be completed by March 2016. A spokesman for the company told the Washington Post that the decision was made “months ago” in response to “changing consumer and dental professional preferences.” One questions why it should take so long to do this, but with no urgent threat to public health, economic considerations seem to be taking precedence.

“While the ingredient in question is completely safe, approved for use in foods by the FDA, and part of an enjoyable brushing experience for millions of consumers with no issues, we understand there is a growing preference for us to remove this ingredient. So we will.” the company said in a statement. “We currently have products without microbeads for those who would prefer them. We have begun removing microbeads from the rest of our toothpastes, and the majority of our product volume will be microbead-free within six months.”

The American Dental Association, which endorses some Crest products, stands behind the beads, citing a lack of clinical evidence questioning their safety. The ADA has not revoked their approval of these products, citing a lack of scientific evidence against them.
The ADA’ s statement is: “The American Dental Association’s (ADA) Council on Scientific Affairs, on an ongoing basis, monitors and evaluates the safety of all ADA Seal-Accepted products. If the council’s evaluation determines sufficient scientific evidence exists that an ADA Seal-Accepted product poses a health risk, the council has the authority to withdraw the Seal from that product. At this time, clinically relevant dental health studies do not indicate that the Seal should be removed from toothpastes that contain polyethylene microbeads.”

Anyway, remember to floss. Floss contains no microbes. So far.

This article is based on one by Abby Philip found in the Washington Post, dated September 14, 2014.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/09/18/why-dentists-are-speaking-out-about-the-plastic-beads-in-your-toothpaste/

1001 Uses For Dental Floss# 46- Removing A Ring From A Swollen Finger

When I was a resident at The Montreal Children’s Hospital many, many years ago, I would occasionally get a call from the Emergency Department, because someone had come in (surprisingly, usually an adult) who had a ring on a finger which had become stuck for one reason or another and which they couldn’t remove with their technology.

What medical emergency people usually do for this sort of situation is either to use a ring cutter which is battery-operated and uses a rotary grind wheel to slice through the ring, or a set of special shears which are slipped under the ring and then cut through it. (Don’t worry, the finger is protected by a metal barrier.) Sometimes these tools weren’t strong enough for thick rings and I would get the honour of cutting the ring off.

What that involved was slipping small triangular wedges made of wood between the ring and the skin below to create a space filled with wood, and the use a high-speed drill to slowly and carefully cut through the ring. It’s a little creepy-sounding, but it always worked. The “patient” always walked away happy, even though the ring had a slice through it and couldn’t be worn without being repaired by a jeweller.

All this to say that dental floss can do the job without damaging the ring. I only found this out after I started writing this blog about a year ago and started to research all the weird uses for this marvel of modern health care, which just shows the power of the internet.

Anyway, here’s how: take a good, long length of floss: 30 inches, say (or about 75 centimetres, for you people who live in all the world’s lands outside the United States.) Slip one end of the floss under the ring towards the attached end of the finger by pushing it with a needle or, even better, a plastic loop called a floss threader, then start wrapping the floss around the finger again and again past the knuckle that’s holding the ring back, and make a loose knot at the far end. By pulling on the end of the floss that came through under the ring, and turning it round and round the finger, the floss will slip upwards and the ring will slide down and past the knuckle and – voilà, the ring comes loose. If you can’t visualize this, which I can’t even though I just described it, I’ve included a short video to help out. After all, a picture is worth… 1001 words.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #45- Cloning A Rock Band

The first mammal to be cloned was Dolly the Sheep. She didn’t live very long, possibly because something went wrong because of the process of replicating her DNA. Now a Canadian dentist wants to do something similar, and he wants to do it with DNA taken from one of John Lennon’s teeth, which was removed because of a large cavity (see picture above- I know, it’s really ugly), sometime between 1964 and 1968, also known as the “SIXTIES”, which you would only remember if you weren’t there, according to the current wisdom of those who weren’t there at all.

Lennon apparently gave the tooth to his housekeeper, who later moved to Canada. Her family sold the tooth at auction for $30,000 when she was 90, because they were afraid the tooth would get lost (or maybe they needed the money.)

The dentist, Dr. Zuk, wants to replicate the DNA to make a test tube reincarnation of Lennon and raise him as a son, so that with a few guitar lessons, he can grow up to be a musician. What if he wants to be a dentist like his father? Hopefully, whatever happened to Dolly has been fixed by upgrades in the technology of chromosomal manipulation.

Dr. Zuk says that if the first try works, he’ll make a second clone. What would they call the band – The Reincarnates?
And what will he do if everything doesn’t go right? I hate to think about that. Do you remember the film, The Fly?

This dentist also owns a tooth that once belonged to Elvis Presley, so, what about a duo? They could sing “I Want To Hold Your Blue Suede Shoes”. He also owns a collection of dinosaur teeth.

Inspired by this story, Stephen Spielberg is rumoured to be planning a film, “Rock and Roll Jurassic Park”, about a dinosaur that enters a music contest and eats the losers.

I wonder how Yoko feels about this.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #44- Voices In My Head

No, you’re not – I know it’s not politically correct to use this term – crazy. Not really.

We’ve all heard stories of people claiming to hear the radio signal inside their head because of a new filling in a tooth, sometimes causing them distress. So far, this phenomenon is pretty-much discounted; it’s all in their heads, as they say. Well, now someone has gone out and developed a tooth implant, a small wireless radio receiver, with a linked micro-vibrator, which can be placed inside an opening (an artificially created cavity) in a tooth, something like a filling is. A dentist makes a space in the tooth for it, and covers it with a white dental filling to seal it up.

Two researchers at the MIT Media Lab Europe, Jimmy Loizeau and James Auger, designed this object, and it was exhibited a few years ago in a collaboration between the Science Museum and the Royal College of Art in London.

The device retransmits digital radio signals from a local cell phone (within a short distance.) This electromagnetic signal is translated into low-level sound vibrations by a micro-vibrator, which then travel through the jawbone by bone resonance to the ear, where it is heard. No one outside the mouth hears it, so it can remain secret. Need an alarm clock to wake you up at a time when your bed buddy would rather not be disturbed? Want to hear the latest news or a secret message? Want someone to coach you through an exam?

Want to know what it’s like to feel like you have voices in your head? Now you can. And how to turn it off? There’s an app for that, which can remotely activate it or shut it down.

Now if only your tooth would stop ringing while you’re having that deeply romantic moment. It could get you into trouble.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss #43- Archeology, Dental Evidence, and Child Sacrifice

Today’s post is a mixture of history, archeology, religion, conjecture and controversy. Not much to do with floss, but hang in for the surprises.

First, a little history. Carthage was once a city in what is now Tunisia. You may remember Carthage, a city and an empire which clashed with Rome and lost. Hannibal, famous for crossing the Alps into Italy with his elephants, engaged the Romans in war and won most of the battles, except for the last one, which is of course the most important one. That’s why the languages many of us speak are descended from variants of Latin instead of variants of Aramaic, which is what the Carthaginians spoke.

Aramaic happens to be the language spoken in the eastern Mediterranean lands before the Romans and Greeks came along, and was the language used by Jesus. It was spoken by the Phoenicians, who were the close cousins, if not the same crew, as the Carthaginians. They were also known as the Canaanites, who worshipped the God Baal.

So it happens, if you remember any of the Old Testament part of the Bible from your youth, that these Baalists carried out all sorts of atrocities in their religious rites, including child sacrifice, and this practice, and therefore Phoenician/ Canaanite culture (and thus also Carthaginian culture) were abhorred by the Israelites, and later by the Greeks and Romans.

Human sacrifice was vigorously condemned in the Old Testament by the prophet Elijah, who promoted the destruction of the Baalists by the Israelites for this reason, among others.

So, did these peoples really sacrifice children in their temples? Now here the evidence starts to stir up controversy. This all hangs on evidence related to something called the “neonatal line” in baby teeth. What is termed the “neonatal line” is a noticeable change in layers of enamel evenly laid down before birth, something like the rings in a tree. This mechanism is briefly disrupted during a week or more following birth because birth process is so traumatic to the newborn, and this line can be seen when these teeth are viewed by a number of different analytical methods.

Still with me?

In a children’s cemetery recently examined in the ruins of Carthage, young children’s remains included both ones who died shortly after birth, but also many who were the results of miscarriages, because their teeth bore no signs of the neonatal line and so died before birth. It is known that the survival of newborns past their first year or two was only about 50% at best.

What this implies is that these fetuses were buried with reverence in the cemetery and suggests, from the inscriptions on grave markers there, that the other children died a natural death and were not given by their parents to be sacrificed, but their lives rather were highly valued.

Read this as you will, but this could imply that the whole notion of child sacrifice in Canaanite culture could be wrong and written in the Old Testament to justify the destruction of these people by the abhorrence of God for this practice. The evidence could be flimsy or it could be robust, depending on where your sympathies lie, but experts in the field (historians and archeologists) are strongly divided on whether this is real evidence and if it means anything when compared to the historical record that was written by the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans, who were of course the enemies of this people. Historical revisionism by the victor, after all, has been around for a long, long time. But at this point, the verdict seems to hinge on evidence from teeth.

To which I say: I don’t know, but remember to floss.

For both takes on this story, see:

http://www.livescience.com/23298-carthage-graveyard-not-child-sacrifice.html

http://www.science20.com/news_articles/old_history_new_again_ancient_carthaginians_did_sacrifice_their_children-128372