Dentists: a follow up

My post on dentists generated a fair bit of interest, and some heated arguments with dentist friends on Facebook.

The defence was predictable: dental disease is common and routine check-ups help to catch and fix problems early, preventing worse problems later. But that completely misses the point of my argument. I accept that routine check-ups have a benefit. The issue is that routine check-ups for other body parts and conditions would have a benefit too, so why do we prioritise dentists as the only specialism which gets to do them? An annual colonoscopy wouldn’t be much more uncomfortable than the average appointment with a dental hygienist, and it would help to prevent some of the 15,000+ deaths from bowel cancer in the UK each year. Even an annual nurse-administered physical inspection for testicular or breast cancer would be quicker, easier, cheaper and more effective at saving lives than having a fully qualified dentist on £100,000+pa count your teeth once a year.

On a related note, Corsodyl’s current advertising campaign shows a woman bleeding from her eye, with the strap line, “you wouldn’t ignore this” – implying that we shouldn’t ignore bleeding from our mouth when we clean our teeth (and we should use Corsodyl mouthwash to solve whatever problem is causing the bleeding). But Corsodyl is wrong. We probably would ignore bleeding from our eyes, if we were all socially conditioned to scrub our eyes with an abrasive tool twice a day.

I don’t believe in dentists

Of course, I’m not saying I don’t believe dentists exist. I’ve experienced enough sensory data to be pretty sure they do.

Nor am I saying that I don’t believe we need dentists. Obviously, dental problems happen and we need specialist tooth doctors to deal with them.

What I don’t believe in is the paradigm which holds dentistry to be of such preeminent importance. The paradigm that says we need quite so many dentists. That says dentists should operate independently of the rest of the medical system. That says they should provide their own first line inspection function. That says we need routine dental check-ups whether or not we have any reason to believe we have a dental problem.

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Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh

I don’t understand India. I don’t think I ever will. (I’m not even sure that’s a possible thing to do.) But in the same way that you never really feel like an adult, you just get better at faking it, now that I’ve been in India for a couple of months, I’m able to talk to in-country noobz and come across like an old hand.

In Orchha, I got chatting to a German tourist who’d been in India for just a few days. I had breakfast with him, but he had to rush off to a pre-arranged meeting with a local man who’d aggressively befriended him in the way that any traveller in India will be familiar with. He was still trying to work out whether this apparent hospitality was genuine, or whether the entire forced relationship was ultimately aimed at financial gain. He asked me, “so what’s the deal? Is there always a catch? Are Indians always after money, either directly or indirectly?”

My answer was, emphatically, no. A great many people are after money, and I’ve done a lot of complaining about the grinding chore of dealing with them, but I’ve also encountered genuine, selfless hospitality and generosity in many places. The ratio at which you encounter the two depends on where you are: in more touristic places like the cities of Rajasthan, people’s motivations will tend towards the commercial, and somewhere like Khajuraho or Orchha, which are small settlements on the edge of hugely popular tourist sites, it will approach 100%. Conversely, it’s been in places that no tourist has ever heard of – Milak, Bhujiya Ghat, Dhuri – in which I’ve been overwhelmed by generosity and kindness.

Thinking about this reminded me that all of those places were in the first month of the trip, and since I’ve been backpacking, I’ve been taking trains and buses from tourist spot to tourist spot, and haven’t experienced anything like it since. So when SK, my host in Gwalior, asked if I’d like to spend a couple of days visiting his brother’s family in Sultanpur, a small city utterly devoid of any significance, I jumped at the offer.

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Nutrition blogging nonsense

I’ve just been sent a link to an article by third-rate Australian Gillian McKeith clone, Jess Ainscough. She runs an absurd ‘health’ blog called “The Wellness Warrior”, and the article in question is 8 Foods People Think Are Healthy … But Aren’t.

I started reading the article before I had a look at the author, her blog and other posts. I didn’t take long to realise something was wrong. The third food on the list was fish. In her reasons for avoiding fish, she states that wild fish are full of mercury, “the second most toxic element on Earth next to radiation.” Now, without doing extensive further research, I don’t know whether wild fish contains significant amounts of mercury or not. However, at this point I can safely say that Jess Ainscough is a fucking idiot.

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Delhi belly: a new hypothesis

I’ve got a new theory about “Delhi belly”. The usual explanation, other than food poisoning, unfamiliar germs in the water or picked up from surroundings, etc, is that the Western bowel isn’t used to the spicy food of India. It can cope with the occasional hot curry we’re used to at home, but when you start having spice with every meal, every day, it’s overwhelmed.

My new hypothesis provides an alternative to that argument. It’s not the amount of spicy food you’re eating that upsets the gut, it’s all the damned curd. Curd is one of the staples of the Indian diet and is served with every meal, without exception. India doesn’t have yoghurt, as we’d recognise it; they just have curd. Curd with rice, curd with bread, curd with parathas for breakfast, curd with roti for lunch. Curd with fruit for a hotel’s “continental” breakfast. Curd to drink, in the form of lassi. Sure, the Western bowel isn’t used to that much chili and spice, but it’s not used to that much soured dairy, either.

Plus, people are always assuming that you won’t be able to cope with spicy Indian food, so they a) tone down the level of spiciness for you, and b) force you to eat more curd to counter it. Surely it’s more likely that your gut’s overwhelmed by the curd, not the spice?

Plus, I’ve had at least two dreams in the past few days in which I was eating cereal and milk, and the milk was off. Maybe it’s my stomach trying to tell me something?

Beyond Belief on organ donation

I don’t usually listen to BBC Radio 4‘s religious discussion programme, Beyond Belief, but I happened to be driving yesterday while it was on. The programme, broadcast on Monday 12th August 2013, and as of the time of writing, available on iPlayer, dealt with the ethics of organ donation.

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Why is healthy food expensive?

A friend of mine was complaining today about how healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food, and implied that we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic if things were the other way around. The suggestion is that people choose to eat unhealthy food because it’s the cheaper option; they would eat more healthily if that were cheaper instead.

That may be true to an extent, but it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: a major reason that unhealthy food is cheap, is that it’s so popular. It’s a huge market, so producers, suppliers and retailers compete fiercely on price to get a portion of it. Also, because the market is so large, they can achieve economies of scale in the production of bad food.

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