To celebrate its 100th birthday, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health put together a list of 100 things that have had a huge influence – either bad or good – on people’s health around the globe.
Some of their picks – like toothpaste – enabled people to protect their health. Other items, such as cigarettes, have made us sick. Some of the choices are surprising (horseshoe crabs? A tall, frosty glass of gin and tonic?) some are relics from the past (spittoon) and others are probably right in your pocket (smartphone). Below is a selection of the more interesting entries on the list.
Drink to the health of your teeth!
First introduced in the mid-1980s, 7-Eleven’s trademarked Big Gulp drink line is – according to the John Hopkins’ list – “widely credited with starting the American obsession with cups of soda a big as a gallon.”
Most people know that they should limit their consumption of sugary drinks, which erode dental enamel which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Foods and drinks with added sugars also have a host of other detrimental health effects.
Water is the healthiest way to hydrate, much preferable to downing sugary drinks. Since the early 1990s, U.S. bottled water sales have skyrocketed – Americans drank 11.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2015, up from 4.7 billion in 2000.
Bottled water made it onto the Hopkin’s list, as a good-and-bad thing. The issue is that while we’re well-hydrated, all of those empty bottles aren’t healthy for Mother Earth. Despite recycling, most water bottles — as many as four out of five plastic ones — end up in landfills, with an estimated 2 million tons of water bottles in U.S. landfills alone. In response, the town of Concord, Massachusetts, has had a partial bottled water ban since 2013 and San Francisco is phasing one in. Many people are switching from disposable bottles to reusable containers.
The list included adult beverages too – specifically gin and tonic, cited as a 18th century preventive for malaria. Back then, quinine powder — made from the bark of the cinchona tree — was used to prevent the disease, but it tasted awful. Mixed with soda and sugar and a large slug of gin, quinine became far more appetizing. The cocktail has remained popular over the years, but as medicine and science advanced, more effective – although perhaps less pleasant – ways of ingesting anti-malarial drugs were developed.
How about those horseshoe crabs?
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the horseshoe crab, who has been gracing the planet with its presence for about 450 million years.
Here’s why the horseshoe crab is important to public health: “from vaccines to needles to pacemakers, any IV drug or medical equipment that will come in contact with the human body must first be safety-checked using a test that comes from a clotting compound in the crab’s blood. This compound can detect even the smallest amount of deadly bacteria and is sensitive enough to isolate a threat equivalent to the size of a grain of sand in a swimming pool.”
Scientist Frederik Bang first observed the importance of horseshoe crab blood in 1956. By the 1970s, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had made the Limulus test, named for the horseshoe crab’s scientific name (Limulus Polyphemus) an industry standard. Horseshoe crab blood has kept millions of people worldwide from contracting life-threatening infections. It’s also being studied on the International Space Station to determine its ability as a tool to detect molds and fungus, and here on earth for potential use as an antibiotic.
Clean Teeth, Fresh Breath
According to the list’s write-up, the world’s oldest-known formula for toothpaste dates as far back as 4 A.D., when Egyptians combined crushed rock salt, mint, dried iris flower and pepper into a cleansing powder. That recipe would be considered way too abrasive for use today – and toothpaste formulas have come a long way since then, as has our understanding of the importance of oral health.
The first commercially produced toothpaste was launched by Colgate in 1873, and sold in a jar. But the real breakthrough came after researchers in Colorado studied a town of children whose brown, spotty teeth were surprisingly strong and resistant to cavities. It turned out their well water contained far too much fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral.
After science figured out how to get the benefits of fluoride without staining teeth, Proctor & Gamble introduced Crest in 1955, the first toothpaste that contained fluoride to protect teeth from decay. Today, fluoride toothpaste makes up more than 95 percent of all toothpaste sales in the United States.
And then there’s Listerine. Named to honor Joseph Lister, the British surgeon who pioneered antiseptic surgery by cleaning his instruments in carbolic acid, a St. Louis chemist named Joseph Lawrence invented Listerine. The alcohol-based formula was sold as a surgical antiseptic as well as a treatment for cleaning cuts, scrapes, and other wounds. It was also marketed to dentists for oral care. Later, it was pitched as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea.
But it wasn’t until the Listerine marketing team turned an old Latin word for bad breath — halitosis — into an embarrassing medical condition that Listerine became popular product that it is today.
As the Hopkin’s team pointed out in their write-up: “Today, we know bacteria are the major cause of bad breath and that solutions like Listerine and others can kill many of those germs — the same ones that can cause plaque and gum disease and, some studies suggest, could be linked to heart disease and diabetes.”
Toothpaste and mouthwash help to keep your teeth clean, but are only part of a solid oral health routine. Seeing a dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings, as well as addressing problems such as cavities and other dental diseases promptly is also essential for dental health and overall wellness.
If you’ve been skipping cleanings and checkups due to budget issues, check out dental savings plans. With a plan, you can save 10%-60% on a wide variety of preventive dental care —including cleanings, checkups and x-rays—and restorative treatments.
Find out more about dental savings plans at dentalplans.com, or by calling 1-800-238-5163.