Science = bad teeth (sample size ~30)

Science = bad teeth (sample size ~11 postdocs and professors)

My sample size of a few suggests that there are probably a lot more scientists out there than me with bad teeth. Mt. Dew was my accelerant of choice when I was in my early 20s doing my masters, and I carried this over into my job at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In Germany, soda was extremely expensive and the building’s coffee machine was the meeting ground, so I switched my habit to €0.15 a cup. In our department at Harvard, great coffee with heavy cream is free, so I just accelerated the habit. 

A recent trip to the dentist revealed that while this habit may benefit my productivity, it will also cause my teeth to eventually fall out of my head. If you aren’t at the same point right now, I’m guessing you are on the same high intensity, high stress, jaw clenching, cavity stricken path. Maybe because I’m no longer the unbreakable 16-year old, preventing future problems is now very high on my list. 

So… I don’t have a doctorate in dentistry, but these are the habits that I’m working to instill.

Finish my coffee quickly.  Coffee is acidic, so it lowers the pH of my mouth for about 20 minutes after each sip.  I’d routinely drink 4 or more coffees throughout the day, sipping their smooth goodness after the morning’s cup. I can feel my productivity increase on caffeine so I don’t plan to stop drinking coffee completely, but do plan to down it much more quickly.

Drink water after drinking coffee.  Dilution (in this particular case) may be the solution to pollution.

Play just a little more. My fractured fillings and stressed molars suggest I’m a nervous mess even when I’m sleeping. I’m taking this to be my canary in the mine, so there is probably other badness going on that I can’t see. With a future that seems to depend on my near-term publication record, taking time off seems to push a professor position over the horizon, but being dead is less fun… so I am chilling the f*ck out and doing more fun things more often.

Hack with xylitol today, but likely switch to erythritol gum

I saw a lot of hype about xylitol online, and generally supported by references to questionable journals (article in Iranian Journal of Microbiology, article in the International Journal of Kuwait University). I like the prestige of the J. of Dentistry (even if it is Elsevier) — see below. Xylitol is also extremely harmful to dogs if swallowed.

Bail on xylitol and switch to erythritol

  • Compelling paper in the J. of Dentistry suggesting xylitol does nothing to help tooth decay but eyrthritol really does — stats and experimental approach seems very solid
  • Dentyne Pure Sugar Free is a gum with erythritol (link) — I will switch once I chew through 11 more packs of xylitol gum
  • Sugar-free gummi bears also look like an option, but I will check the ingredients list 

Try tea?

The 10 years of heavy soda drinking likely ruined my teeth forever, and that is on me. The German dental system also spoiled me, but also didn’t seem to do things quite like they might in the U.S. That U.S. pricing is super high yet easily available with a 20s online credit application. To the glee of the Business Financial Manager (literally what it says on her business card) I was pre-approved for $25,000… which would cover my $24,000 worth of dental work apparently required to keep my teeth in my mouth for another week or two.  Did my hackles grow hackles when that Business Financial Manager asked me to step back into the special room where they finalize the financials… sure they did… but I was so dumbstruck for being posed with an unlikely bill for more than half of my take home salary that I couldn’t even respond!

Am I getting all that work done now that the smokescreen has cleared… not there anyway…. Tufts has a dental program where a student can do things for about 25% the price… so I plan to go down there with my laptop and just campout until some things are resolved anyway. 

I’m writing because I’m not the only one.  My officemate (2nd career postdoc) had 14 cavities last year, fixed 7 of them, and plans to fix the rest this year. My friend (2nd career postdoc) from Norway traveled to Turkey for dental surgery because the operation on his receding gums was too expensive and could be done with a high-level of care there . My friend (45 years old professor) from India just had a heart attack. We can do better if we apply 5% of the focus that we put into our work into ourselves. I know I can do better.

We do science because we love it, but we need to remember to love ourselves first. 

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