1001 Uses For Dental Floss #60- Neanderthal Kisses and Dental Plaque

Helene Rougier, anthropologist at California State University Northridge, in the United States, displays some of the 96 bones and three teeth from five Neanderthal individuals which were found in the Belgium Goyet cave. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand Getty Images

Neanderthals were amazing creatures. Much like us, and much not like us at all. And yet, archeologists have recently looked at hardened plaque, which is the same, I think, as what we know as calculus or tartar, the stuff your hygienist spends an hour scraping and vibrating off your teeth at your six-month visit to your dentist. The results are (for me, anyway) amazing.

The Neanderthals of El Sidrón Cave in northern Spain had a pretty hard time. Food was hard to come by, and they had to fight off predators, disease, and long, hard winters. By looking at the stuff stuck between their teeth in five fossil skulls, (some 50,000 years ago or more), it’s been found that they ate mushrooms, moss and pine nuts.

One individual may even have used plants and moulds to treat his diseases. Paleolithic medicine!

Laura Weyrich, a palaeomicrobiologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia co-led the study, and suggests that these findings “really paint a different picture, almost of their personalities, of really who they were.”

Christina Warinner, an archaeological geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, praises the team’s microbiome reconstructions. The mouths of Neanderthals seem to have been colonized by microbes rare in humans today.

Recent improvements in ancient DNA analysis, have allowed these trace sequences to be identified and have led to a bonanza of research into ancient plaque.

In a 2013 study, a team led by Alan Cooper at the University of Adelaide sequenced preserved plaque to show that major shifts in diet such as the large increase in starch because of settled farming some 10,000 years ago made for large changes in the human oral microbiome.

Weyrich’s team compared plaque DNA from Neanderthals from El Sidrón and from the Spy cave in Belgium. The analysis revealed that whereas Spy denizens seemed to consume woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep, El Sidrón’s foraged for plants, although . Hervé Bocherens, a palaeobiologist at the University of Tübingen, Germany, believes that thee two groups ate meat. Both ate mushrooms.

Amazingly, the El Sidrón Neanderthals probably also used plants to self-medicate. DNA from poplar trees (parts of which contain salicyclic acid, historically used in aspirin), and Penicillium mould (the source of penicillin) turned up on one individual’s teeth. Weyrich suspects that they were trying to treat a visible tooth abscess and a stomach infection caused by the bacterium Enterocytozoon bieneusi. Maybe eating mouldy grain could have caused this too, but the idea that these creatures, long thought to be primitive hulking brutes, as self-medicating and familiar with pharmacological approaches to disease is fascinating.

A microbe called Methanobrevibacter oralis is found in the mouths of modern humans, but genetic analysis shows that it was there in ancient humans at the same time as in the mouths of Neanderthals. This suggests the archaebacterium was transmitted between them. Were they kissing, or simply sharing food? Whatever they were doing together, they were together, turning on its head ideas that they were separate and always fighting for dominance.

“If you’re swapping spit between species, there’s kissing going on, or at least food sharing,” says Weyrich, “which would suggest that these interactions were much friendlier and much more intimate than anybody ever possibly imagined.”
So many amazing advances in our study of these ancient beings, who were largely misunderstood in the past, really changes our ideas of whre we came from and how alike we are to what came before us.

The original article in Scientific American by Ewen Callaway can be found at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/neandertal-tooth-plaque-hints-at-meals-mdash-and-kisses/.


1001 UsesFor Dental Floss #58- Sugar Really Is Bad For You, In So Many Ways

I recently came across this article in Medscape, a well-respected medical journal which is easy to access online. The contents of the article should make you worry. If you think about the processed and commercially-available restaurant food you may occasionally (or often) eat or take your kids to, you should be aware that sugar is an ingredient in very many of these foods, sometimes even surprisingly so.

It used to be that salt added to foods, and fat, whether saturated or unsaturated, was seen as the villain “eating away” at your health, and this has been promoted by the food industry and used as an excuse to cover up the role of added sugar, in all its many forms, in affecting nutrition and health. As it turns out, sugar is, according to research findings coming out more and more, a major cause of obesity and a contributor to, among other conditions, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It should be a cause for concern. Just as tobacco was once defended by the companies who produced products such as cigarettes and cigars, industry involved in the use of sugar in its many forms and disguises are now fighting to retain their hold on its use in food production, denying its deleterious effects. Something to think about.

From a dentist’s point of view, sugar is well-known as a cause of tooth decay when combined with poor oral hygiene, because it feeds mouth bacteria, which produce acids. These acids at first etch tooth enamel (by dissolving its calcium-containing crystals), and in later stages eat away at its structure, making cavities (holes) in the tooth surface. Now, sugar is being linked to other disease processes.

Flossing is important, but let’s not forget that our teeth are part of our body. It’s all one, and it’s all that you’re got, really. Take care of it.

This is important reading.The original article can be found at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/



Sugar Is the New Tobacco, so Let’s Treat It That Way
Aseem Malhotra, MBChB, MRCP

I was recently asked to speak at the UK parliamentary “Sugar Summit.” This event was convened by Rend Platings, a mother so disturbed by England’s chief medical officer’s revelation that, as a result of obesity, today’s generation of parents may be the first to outlive their children, that she launched a campaign, Sugarwise, to help consumers identify foods with added sugar.[1]

Keith Vaz, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes, chaired the event, whose audience was made up of a number of representatives from such high-profile UK retailers as Tesco, Caffè Nero, and the Jamie Oliver Group, as well as such influential stakeholders as the UK Department of Health, Public Health England, the British Soft Drinks Association, and the Food and Drink Federation.[2]

I began by welcoming the UK government announcement of an introduction of a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in 2017. I similarly welcome the recent statement calls by the World Health Organization (WHO) to tax sugary drinks by at least 20% in order to curb the global epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes. We mustn’t forget that the substantial decline in tobacco consumption in the past three decades, which was the single most important factor driving a decrease in cardiovascular mortality during that period, only happened after legislative measures that targeted the affordability, availability, and acceptability of smoking.[3]

Health Effects

Oxford researchers have estimated that a 15% reduction in sugar consumption through such a tax would prevent 180,000 people in the UK from becoming obese within a year and a larger number from becoming overweight.[4] But the scientific evidence reveals that the positive health benefits for the whole population of such a tax goes beyond a mere reduction in calories:
• An econometric analysis of 175 countries (considered the highest quality of study with the exception of randomized controlled trials) revealed that for every additional 150 sugar calories available for consumption, there was an 11-fold increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the population. This is compared with 150 calories from another source such as fat or protein and independent of body mass index (BMI) and physical activity levels.[5]
• The prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the US population between 1988 and 2012 increased by 25% in both obese and normal-weight populations,[6] which goes to show that type 2 diabetes is not a condition related purely to obesity.
• A high-quality prospective cohort study revealed a trebling in cardiovascular mortality among US adults who consumed more than 25% of calories from added sugar versus those who consumed less than 10%, with consistent findings across physical activity levels and BMI.[7]
• The positive health effects of reducing sugar intake appear to be quite rapid. In a study of 43 Latino and African American children with metabolic syndrome, keeping total calories and calories from carbohydrate identical, a reduction from a mean of 28% of calories from added sugar to 10% significantly reduced triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting insulin within just 10 days.[8]

How Much Sugar Is Safe?

So, how much sugar do we need? For the purpose of health, the optimum consumption is zero. Added sugar has no biological requirement and is, therefore, not by any definition a “nutrient.” It is the fructose component (sucrose is 50% glucose and 50% fructose) that fulfils four criteria that justify its regulation: toxicity, unavoidability, the potential for abuse, and its negative impact on society.[9]
How much sugar is safe? The consumption of just small amounts of free sugar, which includes all added sugar and sugar present in fruit juice, syrups and honey, on a daily basis, has a deleterious impact on the most common noncommunicable disease globally: tooth decay. Treatment of dental disease is responsible for 5%-10% of health expenditures in industrialized countries, and in the UK, tooth decay is the number-one cause of chronic pain and hospital admission in young children.[10,11]
As pointed out by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, there is a powerful argument that the WHO should recommend a maximum limit of sugar consumption to make up no more than 3% of daily calories (about three teaspoons).[12] The average UK and US citizen, however, consumes at least four to seven times that amount.[13,14] This is perhaps not surprising when one acknowledges that it has been almost impossible for the consumer to avoid sugar, as it is so prevalent in the food environment and much of it is hidden. In the United States, almost half of all sugar consumption comes from foods one wouldn’t normally associate as having added sugar, such as ketchup, salad dressings, and bread. A third of sugar consumption comes from sugary drinks, and a sixth from foods that people normally perceive as junk, such as chocolates, cookies, and ice cream.[14]
In the United States, there isn’t any reference dietary intake for sugar on food labels. In Europe, the labelling exists but doesn’t differentiate between children and adults. One can of regular cola contains nine teaspoons of added sugar, which is triple the 2009 upper limit intake suggested by the US Department of Agriculture for an 8-year-old child. The UK Guideline Daily Amount label describes these nine teaspoons of sugar as 39% of the guideline daily amount. On the basis of this false reassurance, it would be understandable for parents to believe that it is safe for their child to drink two and a half cans per day.[15]

The food industry often argues that the public should have a “personal responsibility” when choosing what foods to eat, which deflects blame from their own culpability in the obesity epidemic to the consumer. The truth is that the public lacks knowledge because of confusing food labels, and the public lacks choice because sugar is added to approximately 80% of processed foods.

Big Tobacco, Big Sugar

The fact that it took 50 years before the first links between smoking and lung cancer were published in the British Medical Journal and before effective regulation was introduced is testament to how Big Tobacco was able to defend its practices. Key to the strategy was denial, planting doubt, confusing the public, buying the loyalty of scientists, and giving ammunition to political allies.[16]

The similarities between Big Tobacco and the sugar industry are disturbing. As a recent publication in JAMA Internal Medicine showed, the sugar industry paid three influential Harvard scientists to downplay sugar’s role in heart disease and to shift the blame to fat.[17] Last year, the New York Times exposed that the Coca-Cola Company paid millions of dollars to fund research that downplayed the role of sugary drinks in obesity and push lack of exercise as the main factor.[18] And, according to one former UK shadow health minister, the incorrect advocacy of a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, and high-sugar diet by “morally corrupt scientists and politicians who allowed themselves to be manipulated by food suppliers” is to blame for global obesity.[19]
The recent calls by the WHO to tax sugary drinks are very welcome news for health campaigners. The public health messaging, however, has to be more clear. There is nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but sugar has no place as part of a “healthy balanced diet.” Similar to smoking, any further regulatory measures to reduce sugar consumption, such as banning of sugary drink advertising and dissociating sugary drinks with sporting events, will have a further impact on improving population health within a short time. The science is more than sufficient; the case against sugar is overwhelming. Sugar is the new tobacco, so let’s start treating it that way.


1001 Uses For Dental Floss #57- The Dental Nurse Who Became An Alligator Catcher- A Story With Teeth.

Image copyright by Christy Kroboth, 2017. One of her catches (on a golf course).

Not exactly dental floss-related, but a fun story anyway. I came across this story of a dental assistant who decided to give up her career to become a full-time alligator catcher. Alligators of course have a lot more teeth than your (or my) average dental patient, and they’re a lot sharper and dangerous, so there’s part of the challenge. When Christy Kroboth started training as an alligator catcher she was the only woman in her class, but – she’s apretty tough and determined woman. She wanted to show that she could jump on an animal much bigger than her, and tape its jaws tightly shut before it had a chance to do her any damage.

She first started to catch alligators as a side employment to her main job, which was as a dental assistant, but her reputation grew to the point that demand made her take this on as full-time work. She’s a real animal lover, and remembers how she got to be that way- her mom used to stop the car at the side of the road to help ducks and turtles cross, and took in stray cats, dogs, and any other animal that needed a home.

In southern Texas, where Christy lives, there are a lot of communities where large man-made lakes and ponds are a sure attraction for alligators who live in the region to move in, but surprisingly, only one person has been killed by an alligator in the last 100 years. (So she claims, anyway.) People are of course afraid that their children and pets will be attacked and eaten,but she pooh-poohs this just a “superstition”, that they’re not the monsters they’re made out to be.

Alligators, being reptiles, have been around for millions of years, and have become an important part of the ecosystem, maintaining the fine balance of aquatic life. Apparently, they’re quite shy (when have you ever seen an alligator on a celebrity reality show?) and are fairly benign.

With a special licence and a permit, having taken a course which includes both a theoretical and a practical part (in other words, catching the beast with your bare hands).
She was the only girl in the class and also the youngest. The trainer told them: “OK, you’ve all passed the paperwork, now let’s go do this hands-on.”
Having never even touched an alligator before, for a split second she thought, “I can’t do this.” She called my mom, who said, as most loving moms would,”Come home right now, don’t do it!”
But this yound lady had something to prove, to herself, her mother, and especially to the “big ol’ country boys”. In her words, she ran out to the pond, got the alligator, taped him up and ended up passing the test. It was one of the happiest moments of her life and that adrenaline rush lasted the whole day.

Considering the the average alligator weighs almost 800 pounds (360 kilgrams) and is over 13 feet (4 meters) long, you can imagine the guts it takes to do this work. And she loves her job. She didn’t say, though, if she ever tried to floss an alligator’s teeth, and if she would ever try to use floss to tie one up. Somehow, I think, the answer to both these questions would be “no”.

This story was first reported by BBC Magazine. You will find the original article at: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38641709