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January 05, 2009

Fact for the Day: Toothlessness

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

People don't lose many teeth these days.

Toothlessness has declined 60 percent in the United States since 1960. Baby boomers will be the first generation in human history typically to go to their graves with most of their teeth.


An old lady once told me that back in the 1920s, when she was a child, you just assumed that anyone over 40 was wearing dentures. A dentist recently explained to me that one reason teeth-whitening has become such a big business in recent years is that people's teeth are generally so good these days that dentists otherwise don't have many services beyond cleaning to sell to most patients.



posted by Michael at January 5, 2009


I doubt that "will be the first generation in human history typically to go to their graves with most of their teeth." Maybe the first generation since the dawn of agriculture. The Paleolithics didn't seem to have bad teeth. The Iceman, at the time of his death around age 35, had not one cavity. The Weston Price people will likely have a lot to say about this, namely that primitive peoples don't lose their teeth.

Posted by: Dennis Mangan on January 6, 2009 12:01 PM

I can imagine the popularity of tooth-whitening being related to the decrease in toothlessness. No one was going to spend money on such cosmetics if they thought they were likely to lose the teeth soon.

As for the ancients keeping their teeth, I would speculate that many of them died before tooth decay bacame a problem. Diet may have been a factor as well; I don't know much about that.

Posted by: mikesdak on January 6, 2009 12:59 PM

Wasn't it standard practice back before WW II for dentists to recommend yanking most of the teeth at the first sign of trouble? Sounded absolutely barbaric to me when I first heard about it. Not sure whether it is or isn't true .

I would assume the almost universal spread of flossing has more to do with tooth health than any other single practice. That's a recent development. Not flossing so much as the democratization of the habit.

My dentist got after me about my lax flossing regimen about two years ago and just by flossing thoroughly once a day (twice would be better but I don't) my mouth has improved to the point where she's "rewarded" me by reducing my cleaning sessions from quarterly to semi-annually. Yip-yip-yahoo!

Posted by: ricpic on January 6, 2009 2:34 PM

My wisdom teeth were so impacted, they were coming in at right angles to my molars. They had to come out...which hoses me for stem cells to grow new teeth to replace my current set. Guess I'll have to take my dentist's answer to the question as to which teeth to floss: "The ones you want to keep [dumb*ss!]".

Which brings me to...there seems to be a bit of confusion in the article about having cavities and losing teeth. It's true that cavities can lead to changes that lead to tooth loss, but a major cause of the gum disease that makes teeth (whole or holed) fall right out of the gums is the accumulation of plaque. Now plaque accumulation is what I suffer from, hence the need for religious flossing. But the very thing that causes plaque accumulation is mineral-dense saliva. Which prevents cavities. People with acidic saliva tend not to accumulate plaque, but do tend to get more cavities.

So I find myself wondering if people keeping their teeth isn't just because of lower cavity levels, but also because of increased flossing. Gum disease can lead to the loss of entire sets of cavity-free teeth. And flossing is what keeps gum disease at bay.

PSA over.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 6, 2009 3:33 PM

Certain primitive peoples kept/keep their teeth for one reason: they lived on a diet that was mostly protein, with few sugars and even fewer starches. That's why hunter/gatherer peoples don't get much in the way of either plaque or cavities. It's sugars that dissolve our teeth and build up plaque, according to all I've ever read on the subject.

If I'm mistaken about this I'm open to correction.

Posted by: alias clio on January 6, 2009 4:58 PM

I stand partly corrected, Clio. Plaque can lead to cavities. I was thinking specifically of the mineralized plaque that leads to tartar. Oops.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 6, 2009 5:28 PM

Good timing on this piece, Michael. I just got back from the dentist. No problems!

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on January 6, 2009 7:28 PM

Have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water? Vodka, that's what they drink, isn't it? Never water? On no account will a Commie ever drink water, and not without good reason. Water, that's what I'm getting at. Water. Mandrake, water is the source of all life. Seven-tenths of this earth's surface is water. Why, do you realize that seventy percent of you is water? And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids. Are you beginning to understand? Mandrake, have you never wondered why I drink only distilled water or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol? Have you ever heard of a thing called fluoridation? Fluoridation of water? Well, do you know what it is? Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to face? Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Mandrake. Children's ice cream. You know when fluoridation first began? Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard-core Commie works. Well, I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love. A profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily, I was able to interpret these feelings correctly: loss of essence. I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake. But I do deny them my essence.

Posted by: Brian on January 6, 2009 8:55 PM

You can't floss in here, this is the plaque room.

An old-timer relative of mine had all -- that's ALL -- of his teeth yanked when he went into the Army. White, beautiful, movie-star teeth, too -- I've seen the before pictures. The reason? "Floaters" in the eyes. Yeah, he was a little pissed when he got his snappy new dentures and the floaters were as bad as ever.

I blame my eleven root canals on my Coke-drinking youth; when I was a kid in Atlanta, we drank Coke constantly, with everything. Lucky for me, the discovery of the brush & floss and the miracle of water stopped the damage dead. If you're going to play a wind instrument, you really don't want to lose any of your teeth.

Posted by: Flutist on January 6, 2009 10:20 PM

Some people still must be losing teeth, given all the ads that dentists are running for dental implants (a hugely profitable venture, as I understand it).

Posted by: Peter on January 6, 2009 11:32 PM

Could it be that teeth were yanked more regularly in the past because filling cavities/doing root canals was far more brutal in the days before high-speed drills?

I do agree that people seem to be keeping teeth more now; I remember all my grandparents had dentures by the age of 70 or so; neither of my parents (both over 70 now) do. I suspect better flossing and brushing is part of that, but I bet that modern dentistry, and its ability to repair teeth more easily than removing them is part.

As for the cavemen: I always wondered, on a high-protein, presumably-low-fruits-and-vegetables (at least at some times of year) diet, was scurvy a problem? Surely that would affect teeth; if I remember my nutrition training correctly, a vitamin C deficiency can play hob on your gums worse than not flossing can.

Posted by: fillyjonk on January 7, 2009 12:02 PM

Clearly SW Ohio is underrepresented at this blog. Just let me assure you, the tooth gap is alive and well here. Mind your fingers as well, 'cause ten is not as universal as you might think.

Posted by: OutOfContext on January 7, 2009 1:21 PM

The dental profession deserves credit for campaigning for fluoridation of water and toothpaste, which has nearly eliminated their bread and butter business of filling cavities.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on January 7, 2009 9:22 PM

The "dental profession", so-called, is a bunch of commie pinko preverts. They only favoured flouridation because it'll help them and all their commie prevert pinko allies take over.

The Ripper was right.

Posted by: Col. Bat Guano on January 8, 2009 12:55 PM

In mass Civil War graves the way the archaeologists would differentiate between the officers and the enlisted was the state of the teeth. And your intuition is backward. The enlisted tended to have great teeth. The officers tended to have rotted teeth or were missing a lot of teeth. Why? The officers had access to sugar while the poorer enlisted men had little or access to sugar.

The net is that until the easy access of sugar for most people, teeth lasted until you died (of course you died around 35-45). Once we had easy access to sugar teeth started to decay and get pulled at a high rate.

Posted by: techreseller on January 8, 2009 4:51 PM

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