2007-05-23

Utah Teeth?

I went to the dentist the other day. It had been a little over a year. This was a new dentist, one close to my work, and one that a co-worker recommended. I'm largely ambivalent about dentists. I like having clean teeth, and I like having teeth that will last into old age, but I could do without all the scraping, whirring noises, rinsing, and spitting. The other thing that must go is trying to ask questions while they have their fingers in your mouth. Do they want to get bitten?

But I digress. When the dentist, who'd never seen me before, got to poking around my mouth, he said, "These teeth look pretty good. They're not 'Utah teeth'."

What?! I've heard of Utah Mormons, Utah Powder, and Utah's fascination with vegetable/Jello combinations, but never "Utah Teeth." He said from the lack of cavities, general hardness of my enamel, and very small fillings required in my past, it was apparent I had grown up somewhere with fluoridated water -- which is not Utah.

Ahhh... now I understood. See, Utah is backwards in lots of ways, and one of them is the lack of fluoridated water. Dentists and health experts have been lobbying for it for years, but there's some strange cultural fear about "adding" fluoride to the water, which is something I just don't get. Just because something is added doesn't make it unnatural. Fluoride, is, after all, just an element in the Periodic table. One of many. It exists naturally in some water, and in others it doesn't. Bottom line, though, is that it's good for teeth, particularly for kids when their teeth are forming. Which is really important when you consider that we want our teeth to last 80+ years nowadays.

It's the underlying attitude in the anti-fluoride camp that I fear the most. It's the same attitude that causes otherwise rational people to decline to vaccinate their children or to eschew medicine in favor of holistic cures. There's a pervasive attitude that the more "natural" something is, the better it is. Well, this is, in my opinion, an utter load of crap. What was life like before vaccinations, pesticides, fertilizers, and vitamin supplements? What was the life expectancy and infant mortality rate? Compare your lifestyle with those in third world countries. They live their lives "naturally", and would you trade with them?

The reality is that we are allowed to pursue the "natural" lifestyle only because technology and science has made it possible. Vaccines are so successful that even those that aren't vaccinated have a low chance of catching the diseases. Pesticides and herbicides ensured consistent food supplies in the face of insect plagues and plant disease -- so that if our organic crops get wiped out, we know we'll still have something to eat. Fertilizers allow fewer farmers to grow more food on less land. Medicine allows countless individuals to live full lives even with chronic illness and diseases that used to be lethal.

Am I suggesting that technology is the savior or mankind? Absolutely not! I will readily admit that we do, at times, become overdependent on science and technology, and it becomes an end unto itself. We do overlook the simple natural solutions to our problems (like, instead of enriching white bread, why not just eat wheat bread?). But, in general, I think it's better to not forget the reason that a particular technology was ever developed was because a good way of solving the problem in nature didn't already exist. And as it turns out, science frequently looks to the natural world for ideas and inventions. (Penicillin was an orange fungus, after all.)

So get over it. Sure, be wary of new technology, but think with your head and look at the science.