What is really going to kill you?

I got my teeth cleaned yesterday. Yes, I do still have my wisdom teeth. Yes, they came in remarkably straight, many years ago. No I don’t have any cavities. I know I pay extra for fluoride treatments but feel it is worth it. This is just a small part of my evidence-based approach to medical care. The rest of the visit was the typical one-sided question. No I really can’t answer that. You have your fingers in my mouth, along with some hard metal stuff and that little mirror. Where do I look? At those little magnifying glasses you have over your eyes? That feels a little creepy. At the wall just past you? Couldn’t you put a poem up there, please?

I had to get a little cranky when there were signs everywhere with yellow highlighting warning us that the dentist and his assistants would not treat us if we were ill and had a fever. They mentioned ebola first and enterovirus D68 second.

Really? Isn’t it coming up on influenza season? Why don’t they talk about that? At least my hygienist had her influenza vaccination, unlike the assistant in my internist’s office.  My dentist is wonderful, but he had no idea how many deaths a year in the USA are attributable to influenza, and guessed 10,000. I looked it up, and the best estimate I could find is 41,400 and is probably an underestimate “The regression model attributes an annual average of 41,400 (95% confidence interval: 27,100, 55,700) deaths to influenza over the period 1979–2001.” (Dushoff et al. Am. J. Epidemiol. (15 January 2006) 163 (2): 181-187. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwj024 ).

The dentist said they were sent this ebola warning by some dental society and told to put it up, so I suppose if they didn’t and someone caught ebola at the dentists, they could sue.

He also had a sign up that they sterilized their equipment between uses, and actually had the sterilizer, an autoclave, I assume, in house. Yes, I was glad to hear that, but not surprised. If he didn’t do this, of course he would be shut down, and I could catch all kinds of nasty bugs. Do people not know this?

So, what do I conclude? First, that dentists deal with people who have no idea about microbiology at its most basic levels, sterilization of equipment. Second, that fear of disease has nothing to do with probability of acquiring disease. Third, that the world needs poetry wallpaper!

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Politics, Public Communication and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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