Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fact or Fiction: More Cell Phones than Toothbrushes

A few months ago the following question was asked on our facebook page:
Dear Dental Ninja, while attending a conference earlier this week, someone reported that there were more people in the world that owned cell phones than people that owned toothbrushes. Is this true?
First off, Jeff, sorry for the delayed response. I'm in the process of purchasing my own dental practice (wahoo!) and have been dedicating a lot of my "spare time" to that. Now for your answer:

Yes. At least I think so.

Here's my very un-scientific methodology:

I first did an exhaustive google search, but was frustrated to find that this claim had been propagated over and over again with no solid references, much like any urban legend. Any links I found would go back to a power point presentation someone gave at a conference, or would credit the UN - which sounds pretty legit, right? I think anytime I make stuff up I'm just going to cite the UN as my source. "Did you hear that the military is developing ammunition made out of rabbit teeth? Yeah, the UN said so." Anyway, if this was a simple googleable answer it wouldn't be any fun, right?

Without a credible statistic available online, I did what anyone would do: I contacted the curators of the world toothbrush museum in Sweden in order to ascertain the number of toothbrushes in the world. These guys are totally awesome they deserve a blog post of their own one of these days, but for now I'll stick to the task at hand. Also, their website is currently down and a hacker named Shiraz is taking credit. Bummer.

Anyway, the gist of their emailed response was that I should go into a store and count how many toothbrushes are for sale and compare it with how many cell phones are for cell. This logic led them to the conclusion that there are a thousand times more toothbrushes than cell phones. Yeah, I'm not convinced either. 

I then asked myself, do I know (or have I ever known) anyone who owns a toothbrush but not a cellphone? Yes. My two children (ages 4 and 2) and all of their friends. How about people who own a cell phone but not a toothbrush? Yes - but not in this country. I spent some time in Germany several years back and became very well acquainted with people from all around the world. One of my good friends, a political refugee from Kosovo, had chronic bad breath you could smell from across the room. He was a great guy, you just had to speak from a distance. One evening he called my apartment and I answered in the middle of brushing my teeth. Our conversation went something like this:

"Hey, what are you doing?"
"I'm cleaning me the teeth" (That's how you say it in German)
"You're cleaning you the teeth!?! What have you eaten?"
"Um, just regular food."
"Oh, crazy, well anyway..."

Yeah, between his breath, the visible foliage in his dentition, and this remark, you really get the impression that in his culture oral hygiene just isn't that important. On the other hand, even as a refugee in a foreign country, you bet he had a cell phone, aka a Händy.

China, being the most populous country ever, is obviously going to play a huge role in the cell phone vs. toothbrush race. One stat I was able to track down is that China currently has 4.6 billion with mobile phone subscriptions and only 4.2 billion people with toothbrushes. (Don't worry, I did the math for you: 400 million without a toothbrush). Take this stat for what it's worth, I don't know how who counted all the toothbrushes but everybody is crediting the MMA Forum Asia 2010.

One more tidbit has convinced me that cell phones are winning the battle. Statistics that show at least 30 countries have over 100% "cell phone penetration", which is to say more cell phone subscriptions than people.  Maybe this is due to overlapping coverage when people switch plans, or maybe it's simply because people want to be this awesome:

That's right, I'm John Mayer and I have two phones. At any rate, I highly doubt there are any countries with anywhere near 100% "toothbrush penetration." The profit margins on a single toothbrush are nowhere near what they are for a cell phone subscription, therefore toothbrush manufacturers are nowhere near as motivated to market as aggressively as the worldwide cell phone manufacturers and service providers.

So here's the challenge: somebody make "an app for that". How about it Steve Jobs? It wasn't that long ago that "camera phones" were the cool thing to have, so what's stopping us from seeing this as the revolutionary new iPhone 5?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Serious Saliva

One of the wonders of nature is the variety of ways in which different species develop defense mechanisms in the evolutionary battle for survival.  At least three creatures in particular have adapted the ability to attack using their saliva:  Cats, Komodo Dragons, and the NBA's Wilson Chandler. 


This is Dewey, being shown a little too much affection by my boy Sam.  Judging from the picture, you would expect Sam to be Dewey's biggest threat, right?  Surprisingly they get along fine.  You could even say they LOVE each other.  The other cats in the neighborhood, however, are not so fond of their newest rival.  A few weeks ago we heard a commotion in the front yard and the next day Dewey's front leg swelled to about 3 times it's normal size.  We learned from the veterinarian that cat bites can be quite vicious.  In fact, 80% of people who are cat-bitten will become infected!

Komodo Dragons

This animal may very well have more biodiversity in the oral cavity than any other creature out there.  It certainly has the most virulent strains of bacteria, causing immediate sepsis in bite victims.  Somehow the Komodo dragon remains unharmed from the bacteria in it's own mouth, but how it does this is still unknown. Just know that if you ever find yourself confronted by one of these bad boys, don't let it bite you.

Wilson Chandler of the New York Knicks

Recently, Wilson Chandler and David Lee found themselves fighting for a rebound when Lee extracted Chandler's tooth #8 using his elbow.  As you can see, at first glance it appears that David Lee came out ahead in the exchange:

However, a few days later David Lee was informed that his elbow was infected and the doctors were struggling to find the right antibiotics to combat the specific strain of bacteria.  (Did I ever mention that there is a greater variety of bacteria in the mouth than anywhere else in the human body?)  The situation was serious enough that he was at risk of losing his triceps and, of course, ending his career!  Lee described the ordeal to a local radio station:

This injury went from something that I thought was going to be a two-day situation to all of a sudden they were saying “we might have to cut your triceps muscle and you’re never going to play again” to “you’re fine”. It was a very scary situation, and I learned how serious infection can be.
It got to the point where they said if we can’t find the right antibiotics to counter the bacteria that you’re going to have to start getting things cut out of your arm, and you may never have the same arm to play basketball again.

Scary stuff!  You know what's also scary?  The picture of his elbow recovering from the injury.  Kids, remember to wear your mouthguards - not just for your own safety but for that of your opponent!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kissing Catastrophe

Here's a great story to keep in mind while your cheeks are nice and rosy and you're getting comfy and cozy this holiday season!  Being a dental professional, it's no surprise that news items related to kissing show up on my radar from time to time.  A few years ago in Romania a couple was experimenting with a "special type of passionate kiss" and the woman accidentally swallowed her lover's dentures!  Also, every so often there will be a news story claiming how kissing is either good or bad for your teeth.  (Personally, I think your dental health shouldn't really be a deciding factor when deciding whether or not to kiss somebody).

However, this week's story takes the cake.  A 57 year old woman from Sheboygan (you love this story already, don't you?) had been behaving a little oddly lately, according to her 79 year old husband.  Apparently it went down like this:  Karen Lueders was sitting on the toilet when husband Willard walked in the bathroom.  Naturally, the husband leaned down for a kiss.  I mean really, she's on the toilet, who wouldn't be in the mood for a little romance, right? I know you want a little help picturing the situation, so, here's Karen:

So there they are, she on the potty, he standing near her, they begin their little kiss and things start heating up (of course, why wouldn't they?).  She gets a little frisky, when all of a sudden she decides to take the freaky to a whole new level and bites off his freaking tongue! 

The poor romantic fellow then found some gauze to stop the bleeding and called the police, who arrived to find Karen doing exactly what you would expect her to be doing in this situation - singing Christmas carols and blowing into a New Year's horn.  One of the officers (probably not a very romantic one) had no idea what was going on so he asked what sort of assistance was needed.  The result?  She blew the fancy horn in his ear and threw a coffee cup at the police.  

The result of this all is that Karen is currently charged with felony mayhem that has to do with intention to mutilate or disfigure.  At this point all we know about poor Willard's condition is that he was sent to the hospital with his severed tongue where doctors worked to reattach it. 

The full, sad, scary story can be found at the Sheboygan Press.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Dental Ninja vs Santa Claus

Last week I met a new patient who, as it turns out, was actually a very familiar old friend. Upon meeting him I discovered he was a nice jolly elderly man with a long white beard. A younger dental ninja would have recognized him immediately, his street clothing notwithstanding.  Yet in my present condition as a grown-up, I didn't realize who he was until he informed me that he would be seeing many children at the mall during the next few weeks and that he didn't want a toothache to keep him from this vital task.

While waiting for Santa to get numb, I made casual conversation and mentioned how excited my sons would be to hear that not only did I see him, but I actually fixed his tooth! Also, it wouldn't hurt to name-drop and let it be known that our dental practice serves such high-profile clientele.

Once Kris Kringle was good and numb I got to work removing the root of his mandibular canine. The adjacent teeth had enough gum disease that I thought it wise to attempt the extraction without elevating (using the other teeth for leverage). My plan worked beautifully except for one small hiccup - I had such a firm grip on the forceps that once the root was sufficiently "loose" it slipped out of the forceps, came flying out of his mouth, and ricocheted off my chest and leg before coming to rest on the floor!

The good news was that I had removed Santa's tooth, and he was on his way to a speedy recovery and a holiday season free of dental pain. The bad news was that I now found myself sitting there with Santa's blood on my light blue scrubs, and I still had a few more patients that day (including some little kids).  Luckily the extraction happened so quickly that I had plenty of time to go home and change.

On the way home I couldn't help but feel like the worst super-villain around. Think about it, if you saw some guy walking around with a bloody shirt you would wonder, but if you knew that the blood belonged to St. Nicholas? Yeah, pure evil.  Thus is the plight of the dentist - willfully enduring the label of the bad guy when his only intention is to help others.  When you get your Christmas presents on time this year, along with Santa Claus, you can thank your dental ninja. 

PS, I realize that by naming Santa Claus in this post I am in clear violation of HIPPA, so Santa, if you're reading this, all I want this year is for you to not sue me for sharing your private health information.  Well, that and a Red Ryder BB gun.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Loma Linda Clinic Supply Skit

Glad to see the great LLUSD skit/video competition still producing winners!  The first half is a parody of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" with a great re-write of T.I.'s "Whatever you like" at the end.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

EARTOOTHACHE! Man has Tooth Removed from Ear 33 Years Later!

We've discussed some pretty bizarre things here, including a tooth intentionally lodged into an eye and various organs removed via the mouth. Well, today's story comes to us from England and involves a Stephen Hirst, a former miner (those guys are so popular right now!) who had an earache for 33 years.  Or was it a toothache? For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to call it an eartoothache.  It's like the manbearpig of orofacial pain.

The pain began around age 14.  He suffered from frequent infections, and would literally bang his head into the wall because it hurt so much.  Over the years he's had countless doctor visits but nobody was ever able to spot the tooth.  Until just recently, when a nurse cleaned his ear out with a suction tube, inserted a microscope, and simply removed the tooth with some tweezers.  Rather than totally freaking out, the calm nurse simply stood there and looked at it in disbelief.

The biggest question is, of course, HOW did his tooth get lodged in his ear canal?  Mr. Hirst recalls an accident in his youth that involved him falling between two desks at school and smashing the back of his ear against a desk.  How that would cause a primary tooth to end up in the ear is anyone's guess, but my theory is that it somehow became lodged in the opening of the Eustachian tube, causing a series of recurring episodes of inflammation which somehow moved the tooth along until it came to rest just behind the eardrum.

For the full story and pictures, visit the Daily Mail.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Teeth: the Historians of the Body

Thanks to Shakira, we all know that "hips don't lie".  While we each have our own experiences regarding the deceptiveness of hips, today's post proves to us that teeth don't lie.  In fact, the teeth are key players in piecing together some of history's mysteries. 

In 2005, archeologists discovered the "Boy with the Amber Necklace" buried within 3 miles of Stonehenge.  They estimate him to be about 14 years old at the time of his death, and surmise that he was an important individual based on his rare jewelry.

 Recently scientists were able to pinpoint where this boy came from - thanks to his teeth! explains the process as follows:
As tooth enamel forms in the first few years of childhood, it stores a chemical record of the environment in which the individual lives. Two of the chemical elements found in the enamel (oxygen and strontium) exist in different forms, or isotopes.
The levels of the isotopes found in enamel are informative to scientists analyzing them.
Most oxygen in teeth and bone comes from drinking water -- which is derived from rain or snow. In warmer climates, drinking water contains higher levels of heavy oxygen (O-18), compared to light oxygen (O-16) found in cold climates. So comparing the oxygen isotope ratio in teeth with that of drinking water from different regions can provide information about the climate in which a person grew up.
Strontium -- found in most rocks in small amounts -- also varies according to local geology. The isotope ratio of strontium in a person’s teeth can provide information on the geological area from which an individual lived as a child.
By combining the analysis of both elements in the teeth, archaeologists can point out particular regions where a person may have been raised.
 This has helped shed some light on the importance of Stonehenge.  It turns out that the Boy with the Amber Necklace came from the area of the Mediterranean Sea. Another Stonehenge corpse, known as the "Ansbury Archer" underwent the same testing, and his teeth revealed him to be from the Alpine Hills of Germany.


Also of interest is this article from the Guardian.