Virus Apocalypse: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Sneezes 

Ebola Virus outbreak 2

There is little else on this Earth quite as chilling as hearing that there has been an outbreak of the Ebola virus. It brings crashing to mind all of those terrifying movies depicting a world ravaged by a fierce virus for which there is no vaccination, no cure and a meagre chance of survival. Almost two years ago, however, the horror of Hollywood imagination made its real life debut in a handful of countries in West Africa and this appearance by one of the world’s worst viruses known to man has left the local population shattered and terrified.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), we faced the worst outbreak in recorded history and the death toll increased daily. With this shocking realisation in mind come many questions: what is the Ebola virus? How at risk is the rest of the world to contracting this pathogen and what actually happens to the body once it’s infected? Let’s take a look at the microscopic douche bag that effortlessly, in as little as a few short weeks, showed up mankind for our frailty.

Now Might Be the Time to Cancel that Trip to West Africa 

west-africa-Ebola outbreak distribution-map

Source: World Health Organisation (WHO), Ebola Response Roadmap, February 11th 2015

If you have impending travel plans for Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Liberia, now might be the time to reconsider. Your journey of a lifetime might just become your last. At the last count (December 27th 2015) WHO reported that 28,637 people had been officially diagnosed with the Ebola virus in these countries, with 11,315 having succumbed to it.

A 40% death rate might not seem like the apocalyptic scenario you’d associate with an end-of-the-world type virus… that is, until you put yourself in the worn sandals of some poor West African soul. Imagine your doctor telling you that your chance of surviving your illness is 60%! I’d give up all vestiges of civilized behaviour and kill myself with red wine and tequila before that miserable virus could have a chance to get hold of my internal organs. If you think 40% is bad, however, consider the fact that the death rate of the Zaire Ebolavirus has been as high as 90% in the past:

  • 71% in 2007: 187 people dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 90% in 2003: 128 people dead in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 75% in 2001-2002: 44 people dead in Democratic Republic of Congo
  • 88% in 1976: 280 people dead in Democratic Republic of Congo

I don’t care how democratic it is, I’m SO removing Congo from my travel plans!

So, while it might sound completely ridiculous to say, the people in the affected areas are at least a little lucky in some glass-half-full kind of way. I do understand this is hard to appreciate when you are bleeding out your bum.

This brings us to the profile of a pathogen so nasty and malicious, it would have had a glittering career in Hitler’s SS.

Profile of a Serial Killer

Ebola virus under microscope

The Ebola virus belongs to a nasty, sadistic family of pathogens called the Flioviridae that essentially cause the body to haemorrhage uncontrollably – that is, to bleed internally and externally and all-aroundernally. There are five different species of Ebola virus, because for some God-forsaken reason one isn’t enough. They are:

  1. Zaire Ebolavirus (EBOV)
  2. Sudan Ebolavirus (SUDV)
  3. Bundibugyo Ebolavirus (BDBV)
  4. Reston Ebolavirus (RESTV)
  5. Taï Forest Ebolavirus (TAFV)

Historically, the three problematic strains of this virus have been the Bundibugyo, the Sudan and the Zaire ebolavirus, the latter of which has been wreaking havoc in West Africa since February 2014. The other two species are, interestingly enough, not typically associated with large outbreaks. In fact, RESTV in particular hasn’t been known to kill anyone ever. Amateur.

A Little Aside: The Ebola virus was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was here in 1976 that the first recorded outbreak occurred.

How Is Ebola Transmitted?

Ebola virus outbreak

You catch Ebola by somehow ingesting the bodily fluids of an infected person. This, given the virus’ tendency to cause flu-like symptoms, uncontrollable diarrhoea and vomiting, is mighty difficult to avoid, especially if you are living in close proximity to the sick person. And this is precisely why the virus tends to spread so quickly amongst family members and to the medical physicians who are trying to treat these patients. Given the lack of proper, sterile medical infrastructure in these poor West African countries and the strange burial ceremonies honoured there (involving kissing and touching the corpses of loved ones passed), this virus is having an utter field day.

Thankfully, in the midst of all the carnage, there’s the fact that the Ebola virus isn’t airborne. That means you can’t get it from breathing in the same air as someone who is infected, so you don’t need to fear the zombie apocalypse the next time some stranger sneezes. Just keep your mouth close and wash your hands regularly.

Symptoms and Signs Your Wife Might Be Cashing In Your life Insurance Policy Soon

Ebola Virus outbreak 4

Once infected, it could take you as little as a few days or as long as three weeks to start showing symptoms. You’ll feel like crap and probably think you have some kind of flu with symptoms that include achy muscles, a monster headache, fever and a sore throat. Meanwhile beneath the surface of your skin all hell is breaking loose…

Ebola takes up residence inside your body’s cells where it begins its merry task of replicating. Once one has become two, they erupt out of their host cell, completely destroying it in the process. This tiny asshole then starts secreting a kind of protein known as “ebolavirus glycoprotein,” which coats the interior walls of your blood vessels, disintegrating them and leaving them more leaky than a submarine with air vents.

Ebola also impedes your blood’s ability to clot, so you essentially become haemophilic… unable to stop bleeding. One sneeze can initially cause your nose to erupt in a crimson plume of infection, while an accidental bump could leave you looking like you escaped a marriage with Mike Tyson. Eventually, if you survive the fever, dehydration, rashes and swelling long enough to experience the next merry phase of the illness, your blood will start to seep out of your blood vessels in a whole-body internal and external haemorrhage. That’s right. You’ll have blood seeping out of your eyes, nose, gums, ears and other unmentionable bodily orifices.

The next few stops on the Ebola train include disseminated intravascular coagulation, shock and then death.

It’s utterly terrifying.

Where Are Your White Blood Cells When You Need Them?

White blood cells

The reason the Ebola virus has such a high death rate is because it is as keen a master of offence as it is of defence. It actually prevents the white blood cells from “hearing” your body’s natural defence alarm. So while the virus completely destroys your body, your white blood cells – the little guys responsible for protecting your body – are just hanging out, playing cards, drinking beer and hitting on platelets. But wait, it gets worse (or more hilarious depending on how morbid your sense of humour is): the Ebola virus remains so undetected by your immune system that it will actually hitch a ride on your white blood cells to other parts of the body. This explains its rapid spread to all of the body’s major organs and systems.

Sweet Jesus, tell me there’s something modern medicine can do to treat it!

Unfortunately, no. There is no cure and no vaccine for the Ebola virus. In fact, scientists are only now beginning to understand how it works, spreads and wreaks so much havoc on the body. I can imagine that the response from lab technicians willing to volunteer to do the necessary research on live virus specimens must be underwhelming.

I know I’d bunk work that day.

Homer Simpson Woohoo!

The only thing doctors can do for Ebola virus patients is keep them comfortable, hydrated and clean. It’s up to your body to do the rest, which is why it’s the strong who typically survive this virus.

Where Did the Ebola Virus COME From?

There is a very important field of specialty dedicated to understanding the origin and spread of harmful pathogens and it’s called “epidemiology.” By pinpointing the origin of a particular virus, we can understand HOW it spreads and therefore how to minimize this spread. It is also possible to infer from the point of origin the necessary clues to develop a treatment or vaccine.

In the case of the Ebola virus, the origin is believed to be fruit bats of the family Pteropodidae and genera Myonycteris torquata, Epomops franqueti and Hypsignathus monstrosus. What causes such devastation to us humans bumbles around quite harmlessly within the living tissues of these rodent aviators. The actual transmission of the virus occurs when someone gets the bright idea to have a bat barbecue or sandwich.

Unfortunately, bats are quite popular on the menu in West Africa.

Cute fruit bat

How could you eat that face?

The Ebola virus has also been documented in monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and even certain antelope. The problem here is that uneducated people from the villages in these remote areas have no idea of the danger they put themselves in when they come across a dead animal in the forest. They don’t see the harm in prodding it, eating it, or bringing it home with them for whatever reason. They have no idea that swimming around within the coagulating vessels of this deceased creature is a deadly virus that could lay complete waste to their village in a matter of weeks.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Ebola Virus outbreak 3

When diagnosing the Ebola virus, doctors are instructed to first rule out a host of other potentially fatal illnesses, including the PLAGUE. You know a sickness is really bad when it could be confused with the plague, for crying out loud! And bad the Ebola virus is. To date and at the time of writing, more than 28,000 people are estimated to have been infected in the outbreak in West Africa.

The take-home message of this particular blog on the Ebola virus could pertain to any lethal virus, I suppose. While there are things we can do to help patients fight off infection and emerge victorious (with one hell of a story to tell the grandchildren), we have to be fully cognisant of the irony that something so small – something invisible – could utterly destroy one of the most successful species on the planet. All we can do is hope that a virus similar in action to the Ebola, but deadlier and more uncontrollable in its spread never, ever makes it out of the dark recesses of our planet.

So, kids, wash your hands before you eat and no matter how tempted you are to try new things, never order bat off the menu.

Advertisements

Hasta la Vista Hangover!

Beautiful blonde in a bar

It’s happened to the best of us. You wake up in a room you don’t recognize, next to a person you don’t recognize, wearing pink floral shorts you DEFINITELY don’t recognize. Your head feels like it has an iron cannonball rolling around in it, thumping against the delicate pink tissue that lines the inside of your skull. And it tastes like a large animal – a carnivorous animal – relieved itself inside your mouth at some stage while you were asleep. If your tongue didn’t belong to you, you would spit it out.

Oh alcohol! Such a bitter-sweet, love-hate relationship we have with this hydrocarbon.

Booze gives you the gumption to chat up all the pretty birds in the bar. It makes you feel indestructible, sexy and powerful. It gives you the energy to dance for hours, with the occasional push-up set right there in the middle of the club. It sharpens your conversational skills, sense of humour, wit (pre-tequila) and confidence. Alcohol is awesome!

So then why did you wake up next to Jabba the Hutt? What is that massive red welt down the side of your face? WHY IS THAT DAMN ANT MAKING SO MUCH NOISE?! And why do you have to refer to the bottle of pills next to Jabba the Hutt’s bed to remember her name?

Lithium? What kind of name is that, anyway?

Prevent a hangover

Hangovers are NO fun. So, what can science tell us about them? Is there a way that we can enjoy our booze without the morning after banging headache, breath that could melt cement, crippling nausea, stiff joints and signed marriage papers to your cousin?

Yes! Sort of…

“I’ll Just Have One Glass and then Head Home”

two drunk friends with a bottle

Not even the prospect of the Harvard bar exam has prevented law students from uttering these famous last words. So you can be forgiven for your weakness. What we all would like to know is what you can do to prevent the hangover you KNOW you’re going to have tomorrow. Well, the best way would be to abstain from alcohol altogether.

Hahahahahaha!! Relax, I’m just kidding!

The best way to prevent a hangover is to understand what alcohol does to your body and to then mitigate this damage as best as you possibly can. Let’s examine the anatomy of a hangover, starting with this very scientific question… why does alcohol make you feel so sh*t?

The Morning After the Night Before

young drunk woman with curlers crying next to a bottle of wine

It Dehydrates

Alcohol blocks the production of anti-diuretic hormones in your kidneys. A diuretic is something that makes you want to pee. This – in addition to that entire keg of beer you just drank – is why you can’t stop going to the loo. This causes your body to dehydrate and dehydration is the root of all hangover evil. It makes you feel lethargic and gives you a banging headache.

It Skull-bashes

Alcohol expands the blood vessels in your head, while dehydration causes your brain tissue to shrink and pull away from the sides of the skull. This makes you feel like you stopped an earth-bound asteroid with your noggin.

It Irritates

Then there’s the effect alcohol has on your digestive system. Your stomach can quite easily manage a few cocktails or beers. But ten Kamikazes later, you’ll be going Kamikaze out the open window of your friend’s car. Alcohol irritates your stomach lining. To top it off, most alcoholic beverages are acidic, which combines with your own stomach acid to produce a seriously potent brew. That’s when the little gremlins in your belly hit the ‘emergency eject’ button.

It Lowers Blood Sugar

Alcohol screws around with your body’s glucose levels. Glucose is blood sugar, which is the energy your body needs to move and grows. This is why you so desperately hope you win that game of rock-scissors-paper against your flatmate so that HE is the one who has to walk to McDonalds for emergency hangover breakfast.

Pot Smoker with the Munchies

That’s what alcohol does to your body on a regular day in the office. Now… how can we STOP it?

Your Essential Hangover Kit

Every dedicated drinker should own a hangover kit. You qualify as ‘dedicated’ if you’ve done one or more of the following:

  1. Taken pictures of people you couldn’t remember meeting.
  2. Taken your shirt off in the middle of a crowded bar.
  3. Made out with your best guy friend. And you’re a dude.
  4. Had a good boo because that song the DJ played was just so beautiful!
  5. Woken up next to someone whose name you couldn’t remember.
  6. Woken up and couldn’t remember your own name.
  7. Pledged that you’re going to stop drinking for a month
  8. Reconsidered # 7 and pledged that you’re going to stop drinking for a week.
  9. Ended up congratulating yourself on not drinking for TWO WHOLE DAYS.
  10. Didn’t go to rehab when they tried to make you to. Noooo, noooo, NO!

Now that we’ve established your status, your hangover kit should consist of:

Water: A good two litre bottle of mineral water will help you rehydrate.

Electrolytes: It’s not good enough to drown your body in water. You will need to replenish all the essential minerals, salts and other goodies your body loses every time you go to the loo, which, when you’re hanging like a bat, is a lot. Stock your hangover kit with a few sachets of electrolytes and/or some sports energy drinks.

Vitamin B (or Thiamine) tablets: Trust me on this one. I have performed repeated controlled scientific experiments involving alcohol and Vitamin B. Take a tablet before you start drinking and then another one in the morning. Vitamin B helps your body to metabolize alcohol, expands your blood vessels (preventing headaches) and restores your energy levels. In other words, it’s your best friend.

Opioid painkillers or aspirinIf you can’t readily get your hands on some morphine and the caterpillar in your garden is all out of “that good shit”, then take an aspirin. It’s a big hangover no-no to take acetaminophen or paracetamol. The combination of this common subset of painkillers and alcohol is a cocktail that can do extensive liver damage. If you’re only finding this out now, don’t worry. Me too, buddy. Me too.

Catepillar Alice in Wonderland

Feed the Hangover! You won’t want to eat, but you must. Food is your divine saviour and one of the most effective ways to combat a hangover. It replaces all the goodness you spent relentlessly banging out of yourself the night before. If you’re feeling too nauseous to tolerate food, take an anti-emetic (anti-nausea) pill like Valoid or Motilium. Ginger is a natural anti-nausea remedy if you’re not keen on polluting your body with chemicals, which is an idiot way to think: where was that philosophy last night when you were hammering back the Jagermeister?

Get Up and Get Moving! You’re going to hate this one, but it’s true. There have been times I’ve been forced to get up in the moist grips of a crippling hangover and go out, usually to try find my scooter and retrieve it (God, I miss Thailand). Or to play tour guide to a visiting friend who’s too excited to see Table Mountain to nurse their hangover. Once I’ve gotten moving, however, I actually don’t feel that bad! Exercise elevates your metabolic rate and this helps your body to process alcohol and all the crap that comes in those huge cocktails you drink quicker. The injection of oxygen into your body also puts you on the fast(er) track to feeling better.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Two drunk girls making out

Scientific diagram illustrating the awesomeness of alcohol

Alcohol is an excellent social lubricant (although Durex has a pretty decent line too). But your body pretty much sees it as a poison, so you have to be careful. If you drink booze like a camel, you’re going to end up in the hospital ER, or immortalized on YouTube doing something really stupid and really embarrassing.

By understanding how alcohol affects your body’s organs and functions, we can see with greater clarity what we need to do to offset the symptoms of a hangover, or at least to alleviate their severity. Put together a hangover kit and nurse your body back to good health. You will not feel 100% – you don’t deserve to – but you may be able to scrape together a sufficient number of brain cells to write your exam without blowing chunks over the back of the student in front of you; which, when you’re really hung over, is good enough!

I’ll drink to that!

President Barack Obama enjoying beer

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Copyright © Thea Beckman 2015

The Placebo Effect

Placebo Effect Matrix

In all likelihood, you’ve heard of the Placebo Effect before. Not Placebo, the whiney, androgynous, English alternative rock group. I’m talking about the Placebo Effect. I find that the best and most scientifically accurate explanation of this fascinating phenomenon is provided by the 1970’s rock band, Journey:

“Don’t stop, belieeeeeving!! Hold on to that feeeeeeeling!!”

Definition

The Placebo Effect is the actual or at least perceived improvement noted when a patient is given a totally useless “medicine” or “treatment” for a condition or disease. Only, the patient doesn’t know that the pills he or she is taking are actually completely inert, such as sugar pills, which are about as useful in treating disease as 10 Hail Mary’s. Sugar pills can’t cure anything other than boring tea, but, interestingly enough, you can overdose on them. When you do, the results are a hammering heart rate, Type 2 diabetes and hyperactivity.

Hyperactive girl child

Why on EARTH would any doctor want to treat a patient with sugar pills? If the treatment is ineffective, aren’t they wasting the patient’s time: why would they risk that?

Well, placebos, which come in the form of medicines AND procedures, including surgery, are most importantly used in medical research and in the development of new pharmaceuticals. In other words, they’re not actually prescribed by doctors to ailing patients.

Placebos are used in clinical trials to measure the physical response of patients to a useless drug (which they believe to be the real thing), versus those on an active drug. This helps the lab-coat clad nerds developing the medicine understand what improvement is a result of actual curing versus psychological “wishful thinking”.

Playing with Placebos: How to Perform Clinical Trials on Human Lab Rats

Medical procedure placebo

First and foremost, you recruit a group of people who all have a certain disease or fulfill a certain physical profile and pay them money to be your guinea pigs. You treat half of your lab rats with the medicine you’re developing – the medicine that’s actually supposed to cure them. Then, you take the other half and you feed them sugar pills, or perform mock surgery on them. LAWD knows how you pull that off… you may get away with anesthetizing a patient, but cutting up their body with a scalpel for no darn reason is sure to piss someone off.

You tell BOTH groups that they’re receiving a treatment designed to cure their condition and its symptoms OR you don’t tell either group anything. There are, in actual fact, many different kinds of placebo procedures: some involve telling your study group that they’re receiving proper treatment (as the above example pointed out) and others involve discretion and so neither group – the test group nor the placebo group – knows whether they’re taking a real pill or a sugar pill.

You then get your guinea pigs to keep a detailed record of the way they feel and the intensity of any symptoms over the course of the next however long is necessary. This is complemented by regularly scheduled physical examinations, so that you can keep your doctorly eye over their progress, or regress in the case of Temafloxacin. Oops.

Mind Over Matter

Placebo-effect mind over matter

The awesome thing about the Placebo Effect, which is a pervasive phenomenon that has been documented in countless medical study groups and controlled clinical trials, is that many of the patients who believe they’re being treated do get better! Or at least they feel better! What doctors have found is that the Placebo Effect plays a role in just about every medical intervention we use on a daily basis, such as when you take an aspirin for a headache.

Unless you prefer headaches to sex.

Of course the medication works on a pharmaceutical level, but a small component of the treatment is you believing that it will work. The power of this positive thinking actually makes you feel better, if not physically, then at least about life in general. Hope is the heroine of the emotional spectrum (not the kind that wears a cape).

What the Placebo Effect illustrates is the incredible power of the mind in controlling our physical wellness. A fake treatment will, in all likelihood, not go so far as curing a disease (this is a science blog… let’s not get ahead of ourselves), but it certainly can distract us from the symptoms. If you believe you’re being treated for pain or fatigue, for example, the Placebo Effect can see you feeling better, more comfortable and perhaps more energetics simply because you believe you’re being treated. Your mind fuels your body’s convalescence.

mind-over-matter-funny

The same can be said for the opposite: just think how you feel after heartbreak. Physically, there is nothing wrong with you and medically, there’s no such thing as a “broken heart”. Yet, you are burdened with the most incredible fatigue, overwhelming lethargy and even slight nausea. Depression and sadness are powerful things and their physical manifestations can leave even the most stoic of individuals crippled. It therefore goes to reason that the opposite – optimism, hope, relief – can bring about the opposite physical manifestations, such as a relief of pain and more energy.

This is not fantasy, it is a phenomena that has been documented innumerable times in the medical literature. So why not use placebos to treat non-threatening conditions? It would save us a staggering amount of money on medicine while negating the need for us to pollute our bodies with expensive chemicals… wouldn’t it?

The problem is the Placebo Effect, while widely documented, is not predictable and reliable. Since it is largely the result of “mind over matter” and, let’s face it, some people’s minds are a beer short of a six-pack, this effect cannot be used as the basis for an official medical treatment. It might work for some, but it might not work for others. And when you have irritable bowel syndrome, the last thing you want is a medicine that might work or might not work. 

Something Smacks of Deception… 

placebo-funny-comic

Yes, there are a number of ethical issues concerned with using placebos. In the context of medical testing and clinical trials, the use of fake pills or procedures may be well and dandy, but many people have issues with the fact that the entire premise of a placebo is to be deceptive. A patient believes they’re being treated or at least that the doctor is trying to treat them. Imagine how you’d feel if, after 6 years of a clinical trial, you find out you’ve been taking sugar pills the whole time. And here you were thinking you had a genetic predisposition to tooth decay!

The important distinction to be made here is the use of placebos in laboratory research as opposed to clinical trials. When you’re testing a “fake” medicine on patients who need actual treatment, you’re kind of wasting their time. Also, if the condition is serious enough, you could be allowing it to progress to a point of permanent and irreversible damage. These are all issues raised by people who, interestingly enough, will take medicine when sick. The very same medicine that went through these clinical testing processes involving placebos and human lab rats.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Pills placebo

Even though placebo pills or procedures aren’t designed to actually change anything, they have been documented to work, which is pretty awesome because it highlights just how powerful our minds are. If you’ve ever felt stoned just from hanging out with a bunch of hippies (who’s stereotyping?) or drunk after a cocktail you were TOLD had tequila in it, but didn’t… then you’ve experienced the Placebo Effect, which is completely hang-over free!

The ethical debate raging around the use of placebos in clinical trials is interesting and one in which I would be torn asunder if I had to partake. While I’m all for the advancement of medical science and technology, I wouldn’t like to think that I’m being messed about by my treating physician. On the other hand, if your doctor tells you “would you like to take part in an experimental treatment, yadda yadda,” I’d be damn sure to read the fine print.

And finally… a fantastic bit of trivia: Placebo means (in Latin), “I shall please”. That doesn’t mean you can start feeding your girlfriend sugar pills in the hope that it lives up to its literal translation, but if it does work in getting her fired up in bed, be sure to let me know…

You may have stumbled across on of the biggest medical discoveries of our time.

Oral Hell and Oral Health

Funny view from inside mouthImage Source: Smint Ad Campaign

You could have Jessica Alba’s skin, Scarlett Johansson’s lips, Mila Jovovich’s eyes and Angelina Jolie’s (ex) boobs… but if your breath could melt cement, you can ship your ass off to the other side of that bar, thank you!

A beautiful smile is perhaps the most cliché of all physical assets when it comes to what one considers attractive; that and hair and eyes. While there’s not much you can do to maintain beautiful eyes (besides cutting down on smoking herb), all your teeth need is regular brushing and flossing and the reward you enjoy is a beautiful white smile. This is something that Hollywood superstars spend a veritable fortune on.

Yet in spite of the glaringly obvious logic, oral hygiene doesn’t get the recognition it should and as far as attraction is concerned, I consider it key! Why? Do you have any idea what goes on in your mouth? It’s a writhing cesspool of bacteria!

Your Mouth: Pathogen Paradise

oral-bacteria-in-your-mouth

We share our world, our body and our mouths with billions of tiny microorganisms. Being a warm moist cavity, your mouth is an excellent environment for them because, just like Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton, bacteria love warm, moist cavities.

The proliferation of oral bacteria is fuelled by the sugar and food debris left in your mouth after eating a meal, or after sipping on a delicious, ice cold beverage. Mmmm, beer. But, just like everything else that eats, bacteria need to use the toilet too and the wastes they produce are not only acidic, they are also packed with sulphuric compounds. These – if you can recall that unfortunate incident in High School chemistry class, your mother’s nauseating flatulence or a visit to the local geothermal hot springs – smell very much like rotten eggs.

And aside from the obvious onion and garlic-loaded meal, THIS is what causes bad breath: bacteria poop.

young girl checks her breath with her hand

In addition to using your teeth as their bathroom, bacteria are workaholics. Their wastes accumulate relentlessly on your tongue, teeth and gums in between your efforts to keep them clean. If you ever wanted to see evidence of this waste, simply use your fingernail to gently scrape at your teeth, particularly at the margin with the gums. That white sticky substance that comes off is called plaque and it’s composed of alive bacteria, dead bacteria and bacteria poop.

Left in place for too long, plaque becomes tartar. Bacteria establish vast condominiums and apartment blocks, perhaps a school or two, a post office, library and police station ON your teeth. In other words, a far more permanent settlement and no amount of vigorous brushing can tear down these structures. To remove tartar, you need to see the dental hygienist who will get to work destroying the lives of gazillions of bacteria families by levelling schools, razing houses to the ground and basically bringing Armageddon down upon the pathogens inhabiting your mouth.

The Tyranny of Plaque and Tartar

funny Horse with open mouth

Plaque and tartar are the reason dentists encourage you to brush your teeth more than just once a month. All it takes is a few hours for bacteria to coat your teeth in their gross mess and the acidity of it eats away at your teeth, which causes cavities. So, contrary to popular understanding, sugar, sweets and candy don’t cause cavities, bacteria do. But bacteria, like Bill Cosby, LOVE them some sugar. It provides them with the energy to multiply faster and so, people who eat a lot of sugar and refined carbohydrates will probably find themselves at a greater risk of cavities than those who eat healthily, like those annoying vegans and vegetarians who are out to make everyone look like sadomasochists.

The tyranny of bacteria poop doesn’t end there… being highly acidic, it also irritates the soft tissues in your mouth, particularly the gums, which become angry and inflamed in response. The medical terminology for inflammation is “itis” – think laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx), tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon), meningitis (inflammation of the brain)… and so, people with poor oral hygiene and a diet full of sweets, candy, alcohol and other delights tend to suffer from gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).

Then there’s periodontitis.

Periodontitis. Claiming Teeth and Killing Sex Lives Since, Like, Forever 

Funny old man toothless

Image Source: FunnyChillies.com

Periodontitis is gingivitis on steroids. It’s what happens over the course of many years when you neglect to brush and floss your teeth frequently enough. It’s what happens when you compliment your deplorable oral hygiene routine with habits such as smoking, excessive drinking and a diet that is full of the wrong stuff and in severe shortage of the right stuff.

Heads up: do NOT Google “periodontitis” if you want to keep your lunch down.

Periodontitis (peri – “around”, dont – “tooth”, itis – “inflammation”) is an aggressive bacterial infection of the gums and one that extends deep into the seemingly watertight spaces between the roots of your teeth and the gums that surround them. It does this by slowly destroying the ligaments and tissues that attach the gums to the teeth, thereby forming deep pockets in which oral bacteria are left to happily bonk (themselves), produce babies and poop to their heartless content.

At this stage in the infection, there is absolutely nothing you can do to redeem yourself, unless you can figure out how to get a toothbrush underneath your gum tissue to scrub your tooth roots clean, although I’m guessing that would be about as uncomfortable as the silence around the dinner table after your mom has accidentally discovered your vibrator.

So what’s the solution? What can people who have neglected their oral health do to be able to breathe again without offending everybody within a three-mile radius?

Female medical doctor - dentist - showing chewing gum. Dental care

Salivation, I Mean, Salvation 

The good news is that if you have been diagnosed with gum problems such as gingivitis or, Gawd forbid, periodontitis, treatment is available! Also, you’re not alone. According to the Centre for Disease Control, a pretty shocking 80% of the population of America suffers with some kind of gum infection, be it localised or general, mild or aggressive.

And you guys are supposed to be the most advanced nation on the planet? Pssshhh!

If you have been diagnosed with gum problems, you will just have to resign yourself to to the fact that you’re going to have to spend a couple of uncomfortable sessions in the dentist’s chair. You might even be referred to a dental specialist known as a periodontist. What’s the difference? Periodontists sit back in their chair with a calm demeanour and steepled fingers in a way that only those who charge a disgusting amount of money for 15 minutes of their time can do.

I want to be one of those people one day.

Periodontists also focus their efforts on treating conditions, infections and diseases that affect the gum tissue and bone surrounding the teeth, much like a cardiovascular surgeons focuses on treating conditions, infections and diseases that affect the heart. The good thing about opting for timely treatment is that the alternative is tooth loss and a sloppy, gummy smile that is guaranteed to end your sex life for good.

toothless-man

What’s The Prognosis, Doc?

Dental treatment may cost a fair penny and it may not be the most pleasurable sensation in the world having your gums peeled back from the roots of your teeth to clear out all the muck, bacteria and other gross things you’ve been harbouring there since you decided to quit your oral hygiene career and instead become a hedonistic couch potato. When you consider the outcomes of this kind of decision, I find it difficult to believe that anyone would make any other choice. But there IS another choice short of ignoring how disgusting you’ve allowed your mouth to become and it’s a revelation of epic proportions. It will blow your mind! It will change your life forever!

Dental hygiene

Prevention!

Ask any pregnant teen! Prevention is the answer! Just first make sure they aren’t of the Mormon persuasion, because I believe teen pregnancy is quite normal to them.

Prevention is better than cure and this may be the boring part because it reminds you of every conversation you’ve ever had with your dentist. By brushing your teeth at least twice a day, by flossing before you go to bed at night EVERY night and by visiting the dentist once per year to have your teeth professionally cleaned and your oral health assessed, you can prevent yourself from falling victim to gross diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. You can prevent the build-up of bacterial poop on your pearly whites, gums and tongue, thereby helping to keep your breath tolerable, rather than smelling like a flatulant geothermal vent.

This is a good thing because if you enjoy kissing people of the opposite sex (or same sex; no one’s judging) then the clean breath associated with a healthy mouth is a MUST. Like I said right at the start: you could be a vision of smouldering hotness, but if you have the kind of mephitic breath that is befitting of the family lavatory after Mexican food night, I would literally rather make out with Rosie O’Donnell.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

happy and smiling girl with a smile painted on paper

In this horribly germophobic society we live in, there is this ridiculous paradox: the same people who go out of their way to NOT touch the stairway banister or escalator railing in the fear of contracting the Ebola virus, will go to bed without flossing their teeth. The same people who shower two or even three times a day and insist on changing their bed sheets every week haven’t seen the inside of a dentist’s office since they had their braces removed at the age of 14.

There are three integral components to maintaining good oral health and they are so easy, there’s absolutely no excuse for not doing them: (1) brush two to three times a day for two minutes at a time, (2) floss every day before you go to bed at night and (3) see your dentist and oral hygienist at least once per year.

There’s nothing more attractive than a healthy smile. Also, you’re not a shark. You only have one chance at permanent teeth, so look after them!