Comrade Siri counts his teeth, one by one: But does the government of Laos put fluoride in the water?

Humans have 32 teeth. Frankly, that’s lots. More than enough, in fact. Some experts say we really only need 20 to chew our food well enough to swallow without too much drama. (Yes, there is an expert for *everything*).

But which 20 are most needed?

How about which are most important? A single pointy canine was said to have been found in the ashes left behind after the cremation of the Buddha. According to the story, the tooth’s owner had the right to rule the country, leading to pitched battles over its possession.

That lone tooth – the sage Gautama Buddha is believed to have died in the fourth century BCE — is now on display in the Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Author Colin Cotterill’s 2005 novel, Thirty-Three Teeth (filed in adult fiction on the Lennoxville Library shelves), suggests that the Buddha also had one extra tooth, giving him 33. This delightful book is the second in a series chronicling the adventures of Dr. Siri Paiboun, a surgeon who, in the mid-1970s at the age of seventy-something, is appointed the national coroner of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Comrade Siri is a former Buddhist novice who calmly wanders to work every morning, checking out the latest bodies brought in for forensic examination. His colleagues include a gurney-moving aide with a delightful sense of humour and Down’s Syndrome, plus a nurse who hopes to become a doctor some day. She’d need permission to travel to the USSR for training, however. And speak Russian.

The comrade is inventive, charming, smart as all get-out. He sees the problems of
Communism, but knows how to work the system. In any case, he says, it “is far better to be a plodding communist than a rampant capitalist.”

In addition to a bird’s-eye view of daily deaths — a bear goes missing and heavily gouged bodies pop up; two bodies are found burnt to a crisp — there is a completely different (for many of us) culture to discover.

Not to mention a heady dose of the supernatural: Comrade Siri has “been delegated Laos’ honorary consul to the spirit world.” This can be helpful when your job is to solve all manner of deaths. “He still hadn’t been able to control the visits from his spirit clients or find a way to ask specific questions of them, but they came to him regularly with clues.”

That extra 33rd tooth, suggests writer Cotterill, marks its owner as a spiritual conduit.

Accordingly, Comrade Siri spends a large part of the book trying to count his ivories. Despite his age, he seems to have a complete set! Obviously, he’s been brushing regularly. Whether the government of Laos put fluoride in the water is another matter.

Over on this continent, the Quebec government is definitely urging municipalities to add fluoride to the water in order to protect teeth (tooth decay is said to be the second most common disease in the world; the common cold is the first). But there is opposition to the practice.

Paging Dr. Joe Schwarcz! We’re back to An Apple A Day: The Myths, Misconceptions And Truths About The Foods We Eat (2007, filed in non-fiction at 613.2 and reviewed here just last month, Dr. Joe has a PhD in chemistry and is widely respected for his honesty in presenting scientific issues to the public), and a short chapter in the book titled “Adding Fluoride To Water”. Fluoride gets grabbed up by teeth and toughens up the finish, protecting the tooth from the acids and enzymes that can eat away at it.

Writes Schwarcz: “Controversy is no stranger to science, but it is rare to see an issue that generates – on both sides – as much verbal venom, and as much misrepresentation of the scientific literature, as the fluoridation of public water supplies.”

Schwarcz says there’s no doubt that fluoride cuts down on cavities. And yes, it’s toxic in huge doses. A rat will die if given a spoonful of pure sodium fluoride; but the critter would need to glug down “100 litres of fluoridated tapwater before suffering the same fate if the water had the usual fluoride concentration of 1 part per million.” (Schwarcz leaves unsaid that by that point your kidneys would be kaput from being forced to process all that water at once, much less the fluoride. Too high a dosage of water can also cause serious damage to your body.)

Schwarz dismisses what he calls “fear-mongering” about fluoride. But there are many issues to consider; a quick summary here can’t do the issue justice. Those interested in the issue should read up on it.

And certainly people are interested over in Richmond. A debate over fluoride in the municipal water supply goes to a vote on Oct. 19. Actually, the vote is over whether to add seven cents per $100 of evaluation to the tax bill of every property owner. But if the increase passes, the money would go towards the removal of fluoridation equipment.

In very young children, fluoride can stain teeth: “The American Dental Health Association recommends that infant formulas not be made up with fluoridated water and that fluoridated toothpaste not be used in children under two years of age,” writes Schwarcz.

“Current science tells us that water fluoridation is not a likely source of significant health problems, but that it may no longer be necessary in all communities. Fluoride toothpastes, fluoride treatments by dentists and fluoride present in food and drinks may be sufficient to prevent dental disease.”

That assumes you’ve got the cash to see a dentist regularly.

In any case, you’ve still got to brush.

Little Abby goes off to visit her grandmother’s farm in Goats Don’t Brush Their Teeth (by Trina Wiebe, 2002, filed at C-164 in the children’s section; it’s one in the Abby And Tess Pet-sitters series). But Abby has a tough time keeping her pearly whites that colour when her toothbrush goes missing.

Other things disappear too, and Abby becomes a detective as she tries to figure out who’s stealing the stuff.
In the meantime, she makes pals with her grandmother’s new goats. (Her little sister Tess, meanwhile, is pretending to be a dog and generally acting like a weirdo.)

Goats, by the way, have no upper teeth. So they don’t bite, they nip. And Abby, without her brush, feels her teeth slowly being covered in fuzz. Yuck.

– Eleanor Brown, October 3, 2014


About BiblioLennLibrary

The Lennoxville Library, in Quebec's Eastern Townships, offers free memberships to all residents of Sherbrooke. We have a great selection of books in French and English, plus books on tape and CD, too! Check out our large-print section, our graphic novels... La Biblio Lennoxville se situe dans les Cantons-de-l'Est du Quebec. Les residents de Sherbrooke peuvent devenir membre gratuitement. Nous avons une grande selection de livres en francais et en anglais. Venez donc nous voir! Hours/Heures d'ouverture: Mardi-Tuesday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Mercredi et Jeudi -Wednesday and Thursday, 10am to 6pm -- 10h a 18h Vendredi-Friday, 10am to 5pm -- 10h a 17h Samedi-Saturday, 11am to 4pm -- 11h a 16h Pour plus d'info, vous pouvez nous trouver au Click on the above to get to our website!
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