You like it hot and sticky? Have I got a party place for you. Rent-free, for starters, plus a constant temperature of 35 Celsius, 100 percent humidity — and all the food you can eat.
Not a bad gig – for a bacterium.
We’re talking about your mouth and what’s living in there. By the end of this column you may never French kiss again. Even if you brush three times a day and cut your Johnny Walker with Listerine, you are a virtual slum landlord when it comes to your pie hole. You’ve got bacteria, fungi, protozoa and sundry viruses of no fixed address hanging out between your teeth, just under your gums, on your tongue — even on the roof of your mouth. The bad news is: you’ll never get rid of them. The good news is: you really don’t want to. Most of these wriggly critters are Good Guys. They’d be wearing Mountie stetsons if we made hat sizes that small. They toil away 24-7, hunting down and knocking off bad bacteria –when they’re not nibbling on the bits of cheeseburger and corn dogs stuck between our teeth.
Then there’s the bad guys. Not a lot of them, really, but enough to ruin a neighbourhood. We call them the Strep Gang (full name Streptococcus Mutans). The Strep Gang members used to be good guys but we got them hooked on drugs and now they’ve gone rogue. The drug that did them in? Refined sugar.
See, for most of our history we didn’t have refined sugar – and had better teeth for it. Back in the old days, chemicals in our saliva routinely neutralized acids from raw sugar. But Streptococcus Mutans goes ape for the new fancypants refined sugar – which it converts into acid which attacks tooth enamel and eventually produces those canyons, arroyos, wadis, coulees and black holes we call cavities.
The solution? ‘Way less sugar of course – and good luck with that. The North American diet is saturated in refined sugars to the point of obscenity (check out the adulterated breakfast cereals aimed exclusively at kids – Sugar Frosted Flakes…Count Chocula…who needs that crap?).
Then of course there’s candy. We’ve just come through that sugar orgy called Halloween in which kids vie with one another to see how many garbage bags of sweets they can amass – chocolate bars, toffee, peanut brittle, peppermints, butterscotch, licorice, jelly beans, jawbreakers, Life Savers, kiss candies, candy canes, bubble gum…
Oh — hold it on the gum. Turns out that gum is good for kids. In fact, it turns out gum is exactly what our candy-overdosing kids need.
I’m not making that up. A dental study in Finland ‘way back in the 1980’s revealed that kids who chewed gum had 60 percent fewer cavities than kids who didn’t. A more recent study in Belize found even better numbers –70 percent fewer cavities among gum-chewing 10-year-olds. Not just any gum of course. It has to be sweetened with xylitol, a naturally occuring sweetener present in many fruits and vegetables.
Dental experts are now recommending that children be encouraged to chew gum in school, three times a day, starting in kindergarten.
Ironic. As a kid I got my knuckles whacked for chewing gum in school. If I was a student now, I’d be nailed for NOT chewing gum in school.
Ah well. As that eminent philosopher Alfred E. Neuman said: “We live in a world where lemonade is made from artificial flavours and furniture polish is made from real lemons.”
Now there’s something to chew on.