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Say 'AaaH' | Booster Shots

Good Dental Hygiene Takes a Little Stick-to-itiveness

March 13, 2000|ROSIE MESTEL

If anyone reading this knows of a muthala tree growing in L.A., could they please let me know?

Sticks from the muthala--or Diospyros lycioidies--are used in Namibia in lieu of toothbrushes--and apparently are just as good as regular toothbrushes at cleaning teeth and preventing plaque, although they don't come in all those cute-'n'-zany colors and shapes.

Here's how Namibians do it: They cut a pencil-sized piece of stem or root from the tree, and chew on the stick until the ends fray into a kind of brush-like thing. Then the users go on to clean their teeth and massage their gums. Only about 20% of Namibians do this, but those 20% have fewer cavities than those who don't brush at all, according to a 1993 survey.

In fact, chewing sticks--from a variety of trees--are commonly used in India, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, among other countries. (Chewing sticks are also used in my yard, by my dog, the sticks in question being pieces of garden hose, yanked-up vegetation and the wooden pillars that hold up my front porch.)

Presumably, the very act of massaging and brushing plays a big part in the sticks' role in dental hygiene. But that's not all. Christine Wu, a periodontics professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and researchers at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa report in the March 3 Internet edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that the muthala sticks contain at least six chemicals that may help kill microbes in our mouth that cause gum disease.

Tobacco Stirs the Sound of Music

And now, the moment you've been waiting for! We announce the results of our tobacco song competition (inspired, for those who missed this item, by a song played on the customer service line of cigarette maker Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.).

We thank our three judges--a medical writer, a former poetry editor for Rolling Stone magazine and a health editor--for sifting through all 10 entries. We regret, however, that they were unable to agree upon a winner. Thanks, but no prizes, to everyone. Some excerpts:

Oh the tobacco plant is a lovely plant

Its praise is on many tongues

So is the tar and nicotine

That permeate our lungs.

Oh the tobacco plant is a lovely plant

About it I will rave!

When finally I croak from inhaling its smoke

Please plant one on my grave.

(Amy Cliffe, of Santee, Calif., to the tune of the original Brown & Williamson ditty.)

Of all the cash crops in the book

There's none like Old Tabaccy

You smoke it till you're really hooked

And then go coughy, hacky.

(Virginia Trimble, an astrophysicist at UC Irvine, who says she adapted this from a verse about Halley's comet.)

How many smokes must a person inhale

Before they wise up and quit?

How many kids will pick up some cigs

Before they realize they're unhip? . . .

Tobacco smoke, my friend, is still blowin' in the wind . . .

(Joanne Kreindel, via the Internet, sung to . . . you know.)

All hail to almighty tobacco leaves

You bring us wealth, take our health, give disease

All hail, Weed Almighty!

You let us puff and puff

We can never get enough.

("Ode to the Weed," a stirring anthem by Judy Mednick of Long Beach.)

Thanks also to Jean Koch, H.A. Purtle, Tammy Reyes, Marsha Greenberg (who says she composed her song while working out on a stair climber), Bibi Koenigsberger-Schwarz (whose poem about the Marlboro Man is in Swedish high school textbooks) and Greg Mohr, who pointed out that we really can't do better than that 1947 classic by musician Merle Travis, the son of a tobacco farmer-turned-coal miner: "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)."

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