The Invention of the Toothbrush
"The first thing I do in the morningis brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue."Dorothy ParkerAs I recall - the kid loses a tooth and it gets stuffed under a pillow before he or she drifts off to sleep. (Sometimes it's stashed in a glass of water beside the bed...I've been told it's easier to find the little bugger that way.) And when the sun cracks over the horizon a replacement is often found - be it a quarter, a buck, or a gift - and its all thanks to The Tooth Fairy.The Tooth Fairy is this mythical, make-believe, whatcha'-ma-call-it that nocturnally twitters through the night air and speeds from bedside to bedside collecting the fallen teeth of little children, sometimes leaving a trinket for the tooth as an honorarium for its loss. It gives the rug-rats a false sense of belief in the intangible, a whodunit to solve, and forces them to begin to distinguish the difference between the actual and the make-believe, thus beginning every child's mistrust of its parental units.At about six years, baby teeth naturally start to wiggle, loosen and usually fall out so that adult teeth may have their permanent home. And while this event might cause any kid to completely freak out, it's a normal part of life and it happens to us all-Tooth Fairy, or not.Although it might be natural for teeth to fall out as a child, it isn't for adults, and one of the best ways to make sure that your teeth stay firmly planted in your adult head is by daily committing to brushing them. That means getting in there a few times a day (at the least, once in the morning and once in the evening, but best after every meal) with a brush and your favorite toothpaste...it's the optimum way to remove plaque, which consists mostly of bacteria. (And of course, remember to shut that running tap off while you're brushing and sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in your head-when the song is done, you're done!). A toothbrush can get most of the oo-and-goo, but the flotsam and jetsam left behind is easily tackled with dental floss. When you get into the swing of flossing you'll discover the thrill of what many consider the best way to remove plaque from all of the nooks and crannies along the gumline where periodontal disease most times begins. (A regularly scheduled professional cleaning and polishing by a dental hygienist is also a nice touch.)And to keep your toothbrush fresh as a daisy - after brushing - rinse it completely with water, allow it to air-dry (who invented that silly toothbrush-cozy...heh?), stash it at least six feet away from a toilet (ewww...yes guys, that's how far you splash!) in an upright position and without touching other toothbrushes. The manufacturers of synthetic toothbrushes recommend disposing of them every three or four months, too. And it's also a good idea to break-in a new toothbrush once you have finished with a cold.Because it's such a common item, one would think that the toothbrush would have been made in the seven days that the heavens and the earth and Adam and Eve where created. (I just assumed they both must have had Pepsodent Smiles-didn't you?) This week, however, marks the observance of the humble toothbrush's creation. (How do I know these things? Don't ask, just trust me!)The toothbrush as we know it was invented in the 15th century in China and was originally concocted of boar's hair or horsehair and bamboo or bone. Immediately loved for its functionality, toothbrushes were hauled back by the boatload to Europe by travelers to the East, thus introducing the Western world to a new and convenient form of oral hygiene -quite possibly Western man's first attempt at it ever! (Next, I think, came deodorant, but that's for another blog.)The modern, disposable toothbrush that we've all come to know and love, however, is most often made of more durable and long-lasting synthetics and plastic. And all of this made me start to thinking about how we need to be mindful of the small stuff that makes up our lives and how small actions can have big consequences. Take for instance the simple act of throwing away that synthetic and plastic toothbrush:If you consider that the average human life expectancy today is about 78 years and then multiply that by the times one might replace a toothbrush (every 4 months or so) you get a grand total of 312 toothbrushes used and then discarded by any given individual during his or her time on the planet.Then, figuring that each toothbrush weighs 16.5 gm, in total, every person on the planet (about 6,602,224,175) throws away approximately 11 pounds of toothbrushes in a lifetime. Soooo - if 6,602,224,175 people throw away 11 pounds of toothbrushes each, we're stuck with something like 72,624,465,925 pounds of non-biodegradable waste. That's 36,312,233 tons - a pile the size of 80,000 Statues of Liberty. (It sure redefines the line "...the wretched refuse of your teeming shore" from the famous Emma Lazarus poem found at Lady Liberty's feet.)So the next time you or someone in your household needs a new toothbrush, consider switching to a newfangled biodegradable one made of corn or potato starch, flax or wood fiber, and natural bristles. You can easily find them on line.Although The Tooth Fairy could once ease the pains of losing baby teeth - powerful as she (or he) may be - nobody can make 36,312,233 tons of discarded toothbrushes disappear. That heap of non-biodegradable trash can only vanish by not making it in the first place.Now go floss!