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 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.


1001 Uses For Dental Floss #2– Radium Toothpaste

http-inlinethumb23.webshots.com-43798-2706452680102347975S600x600Q85During World War II, a German company, Auergesellschaft of Berlin, marketed a radioactive toothpaste, Doramad. On the back of the toothpaste tube it was stated that, ‘radioactive radiation increases the defenses of teeth and gums… cells are loaded with new life energy, the destroying effect of bacteria is hindered… it gently polishes the dental enamel and turns it white and shiny.’ The description failed to mention that the radiation could cause mutations and cancer in the mouths of the users and, when swallowed, many other organs of the body. The popularity of this toothpaste is unknown, likely because Germans were more concerned with surviving the war and “following orders” at the time.