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


1001 Uses For Dental Floss #54- Can Good Oral Hygiene Damage Your Body? Really?

Probably not.
Years ago, when I was a beginner dentist, I didn’t know much, but then a lot of others were in the same boat. At one time, the teeth were considered a focus of infection, a place which harboured bacteria just waiting to set forth and infect the rest of the body. Boy, did dentists feel maligned, something like weathermen who were blamed for every storm and cold font, tornado, and drought, just for being around.
There was then an orthodoxy surrounding dental treatment for patients who had various sorts of heart defects, such as damaged or defective heart valves, a history of heart valve replacement, a history of rheumatic fever, or other heart-related problems. All such individuals were given penicillin (or, if they were allergic to that, another antibiotic) for two days before treatment and then for a day after the procedure, because it was felt that bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans or Streptococcus viridans lodged in the gums and around teeth would get pushed into the blood and then travel to and colonize these damaged, sensitive surfaces of the heart. A few years later, the regimen (developed by the American Heart Foundation) got simpler and involved just a single dose of penicillin (or other as above) an hour before the dental treatment started.
More recently, realizing that people with these problems could seed their hearts with bacteria just by brushing (and flossing), it became clear that it was a fool’s errand to try to prevent these effects except where there were powerful reasons to try to do so: recent heart valve surgery (within the last year) or certain serious and complex developmental defects involving the heart, or a heart transplant. Unfortunately, it was not a good idea to have these patients on a continuous dose of antibiotics either. The free and easy way in which antibiotics were being used was becoming a danger in itself, because strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria were arising due to their overuse.
So, at the time, there was also a concern that certain artificial implants, such as latex tubes placed to drain excess fluid from the brain, or artificial hip joints, might offer internal surfaces that could be colonized by mouth bacteria, and antibiotics might be useful against this possibility too. And then antibiotics for these cases fell out of fashion,too.
That was then. Here, now, we’re up against the same situation again. Recently, a woman with an artificial knee joint arrived in hospital with a painful infection in that site. Puzzled doctors opened up the knee and discovered that the infection was by another type of bacteria, this time Streptococcus gordonii, commonly found in the mouth, and decided that because the woman had recently started vigorous flossing, that must have pushed them into the blood, and the infection of the knee followed.

Of course it did. Obviously.

Same old story, blaming the teeth again.To which I say, maybe. And if history is any sort of guide any more, probably not.

Keep flossing.

1001 Uses For Dental Floss # 52- Greek Myths


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.


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.



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 #42- The National Flossing Council

National Flossing Council logoFlossing haikus. Who would believe it?

Yes, there is a National Flossing Council (my main rival for the lucrative flossing-obsessed niche market). It is dedicated, almost to the point of weirdness, (I should talk–I write my blog about just that) to promoting the benefits of flossing.

On their website http://www.flossing.org (not as interesting as mine, of course), you can find a whole page of haikus (those Japanese poems of 17 syllables), all about floss.

For example, how can you not be moved by this:

Assiduous care



Cherry blossom joy



I climbed a mountain,

The meaning of life to find.


Was all he said.


On their website, you’ll find that there’s a National Flossing Day (November 25), The Flossy Awards (for best TV show featuring and promoting flossing) and the Flosscar Awards, for best feature film having a scene that includes floss. They even market floss merchandise like floss T-shirts, tote bags, cups, fridge magnets, and many others.

After your great time with the Flossing Council, visit YouTube and listen to the floss song “Flossophy 10” by Van Oodles at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHgiMeBMMs4. Did someone say “earworm”?

So why am I promoting the competition? Because I believe whatever may encourage you to floss is a good thing. So do that: floss.