Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Toothpaste for young children is fluoride-free

Toothpaste for young children is fluoride-free: Safe if swallowed.

When the fluoridation debate flared in London some time ago a columnist for the local paper, The London Free Press, told all those opposed to give their collective heads a shake. Even though I would not have counted myself among those opposed, I still gave my head a shake. When all settled, I found myself on the other side of the argument.

I'm not terribly frightened by the prospect of drinking fluoridated water. I used it to make my morning coffee without giving a moment's thought to the fluoride in my brew. So, why do I now side with those demanding the cessation of the fluoridation of London's water?

Well, a lot of folk are very concerned and I don't believe in upsetting folk without a good reason. Fluoridation does not seem to be a good reason. For all the talk about the clear, dental health benefits, it is impossible to track down the multitude of studies which supposedly back up the health claims.

If you want fluoride, and I do, brush with the stuff, slosh it about your mouth in your mouthwash, and when done spit it all out. The brief contact of fluoride with your teeth at these times is most certainly of greater benefit to your teeth than the water ingested over the day.

Read what the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has posted on the Web in regards to reducing dental caries through the addition of fluoride to drinking water:

"Current studies of the effectiveness of water fluoridation have design weaknesses and methodological flaws . . . The magnitude of the effect [reduction of dental caries in the population] is not large in absolute terms, is often not statistically significant and may not be of clinical significance. . . . Canadian studies do not provide systematic evidence that water fluoridation is effective in reducing decay in contemporary child populations. The few studies of communities where fluoridation has been withdrawn do not suggest significant increases in dental caries as a result."

Right upfront I will admit to editing the above. But the fact remains that we do not have statistically significant evidence backing up the claim, a claim made even by the Ontario Ministry of Health itself, that "dental decay [rates] are lower in fluoridated than [in] non-fluoridated communities."

And a careful reading of the literature contains warnings for even believers in the value of the topical application of fluoride, folk like me. Under the headline, Acute Toxicity, the ministry warns: "Fluoride products such as toothpaste should be kept out of the reach of children since toxic amounts could be ingested via these sources." Adults are told to use just a pea sized amount and spit it all out when done.

When the ministry admits "the optimal level of 1.0 ppm was chosen, largely on an arbitrary basis . . .", one's confidence in the ministry numbers can waiver. It does not help that in the States the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have lowered the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water to 0.7 ppm. This is much lower than the "arbitrary" Ontario number.

Why did the Yanks lower the recommended level? "Water is now one of several sources of fluoride," they tell us. "Other common sources include dental products such as toothpaste and mouth rinses, prescription fluoride supplements, and fluoride applied by dental professionals." They give a lot of the credit for the significant decline in tooth decay in the U.S. over the past several decades to not only fluoridated water but to fluoride in toothpaste.

So why get your neighbour's knickers all in a knot forcing them to drink fluoridated water? Take advantage of all the alternatives and get the stuff out of coffee, tea, soup and everything else made with tap water. This is 2012 and not 1940. The time for adding fluoride to our municipal water may have passed.

Monday, April 16, 2012

No. 14 going on a hundred million (or more)

Thonet chairs in bentwood have their design roots reaching back into the 1830s.

My wife wants a new kitchen. Me? I'd just replace the worn flooring and get on with life. My wife's a fine cook. I doubt a new kitchen will improve her cooking. It certainly won't help the bank account.

The new kitchen is being designed as I write. Graciously throwing in the towel, I jumped on board. I immediately began searching the Internet for a new dining set. My search took me to the Thonet chair company. If you are like me, the name will ring no bells, but one look at the chairs and you will be flooded with memories.

I knew these bentwood chair designs were old but I had no idea how old. Nor did I realize that these chairs were once on the leading edge of innovative furniture design.

I believe this is the original No. 14.
It seems a German-Austrian cabinetmaker by the name of Michael Thonet in the 1830s began experimenting with bent wooden slats and glue for making furniture. After years of trial and error, he produced his No. 1 chair, winning a bronze medal at the 1851 World's Fair in London for his Vienna bentwood chair. He continued to improve his design and at the next World's Fair in Paris in 1855 he took silver.

Thonet was hitting his stride. In 1859 he created chair No. 14, possibly the first chair designed with factory production in mind. His unique chair went on to take the gold medal at the 1867 World Fair. On a roll, by the 1930s some 50 million No. 14 chairs had been produced by the Thonet factories.

If you've ever bought a piece of inexpensive furniture, the low price partially a result of it being delivered in pieces ready for assembly, you can thank the long gone Michael Thonet and his "chair of chairs."

Coat stand, Cafe Daum, Vienna, 1849.
The Thonet factory could cram 36 disassembled chairs into a one cubic meter box for shipping around the world. Each chair required only six pieces of wood, two bolts and a few screws. The design was ingenious.

If you want to move millions of chairs, Thonet made as many as 400 thousand chairs a year, you've got to have more than a neat design; You must be a superb promoter as well. Michael Thonet was both. He demonstrated the strength of his design by throwing No. 14 from the Eiffel Tower during the Paris World Fair.

In the early years of the 20th century, Thonet chairs inspired a number of other designers to create similar shapes in an easier to bend material: metal tubes. These designers included: Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Mart Stamm, Miese van der Rohe, and Czechs Ladislav Žák and Jindřich Halabala.

In 1929 a French subsidiary was created to make the tubular steel furniture designed by Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier. The Thonet Bros. company was making furniture history. Pablo Picasso, Lev Tolstoy, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Salvador Dali are among the famous owners of Thonet made furniture.

The back of No. 18 now has two extra supports.

I found Thonet chairs are available from a showroom in Richmond Hill, Ontario north of Toronto. My wife and I made the two hour trip but my wife was not impressed. We're buying a Shaker inspired design made by some Pennsylvania Amish and sold in Birr, Ontario north of London.

 The "modern" Wassily Chair designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925.
My wife is letting me buy two No. 18s to appease me. Both will look good with my Wassily Chair which was long ago banished to our basement.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is an egg for breakfast worth this?

The New York Times published an opinion piece today entitled: Is an egg for breakfast worth this? The piece brought back memories.

Years ago an egg farmer outside of London, Ontario was in trouble with the egg marketing board if memory serves me right. I wish I could say what the problem was but I can't. I recall so little I'd have a tough time finding the story even if I visited the public library. The London Free Press library could probably help me, if they still had a proper library at the paper, but they don't and so that option is closed.

What I do recall from my visit to the egg producing operation was the condition of the barn. It was hellish. Small cages, crammed with egg-laying hens standing on a coarse wire mesh, slanted so eggs would roll outside the cages for easy retrieval.

I'd been in filthy barns before, so the strong odour of the place did not come as a shock. What did surprise me was the condition of the hen's clawed feet. Forced to stand on a heavy gauge wire, their feet were calloused and misshapen. The farmer told me that sometimes the growths on the bottom of the chicken's feet would grow around the wires and he would have to take a sharp tool to cut the feet free.

When I told the editors what I saw, they told me this wasn't news; this was simply egg production.

I spent time on farms as a young boy. I knew that at one time this wasn't the way egg-laying hens were treated.