[A re-post but with some good stuff that you might otherwise have missed - more medical nonsense and some stuff about teeth.]
“…it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5
I often hear it said that ‘even a child of 12′ knows enough science to dismiss some of the extraordinary assertions of those selling unusual cures for diseases. I know you and so I think that ought to be true, but I think it is pretty difficult to confidently attack an argument from a cold start. You need to do some research; look into the claims. Often there are no references given but a lot of testimonial evidence from satisfied customers. Is it possible to quickly pick holes in an argument and make a rapid assessment of the validity of the claims? The following product reached me via Twitter today so I thought I might use it as a test subject. I realise that I have ‘poisoned the well’ so that a fair assessment is unlikely but let’s have a look at the Hazelwood Tearless Teething Necklace anyway.
The following is from the NHS website. Teething is the appearance of your first teeth as a baby. Normally it happens between 6 months old (with the bottom then top central incisors followed by top and bottom lateral incisors) The first molars start to appear at 12-14 months, canines at 16-18 months with second molars making their presence felt from 18-30 months. Of course, as we know, these timings will be distributed on a curve with things happening earlier or later for some individuals but they do describe the ‘normal distribution’ in the centre of the graph. Some babies experience no pain during teething whilst most do find it somewhat aggravating and may require lots of comforting to distract them from their discomfort. The teeth do not actually cut through the gums, instead the gum cells slowly break down allowing the teeth to come through.
Now, bearing in mind the above information, how does the tearless teething necklace soothe teething pains? Well, the same way that it claims to treat…
“ulcers, acid reflux, heartburn, [...]skin problems (psoriasis, eczema, acne), arthritis, constipation, migraines, and dental cavities”
…by balancing the body’s acidity.
You can look here for a full list of the symptoms that are ‘highly probable’ to be caused by ‘acidity imbalance’.
Hydrochloric acid is produced by parietal cells in the stomach. Its main function is to sterilise the food that you eat by killing any bacteria or other harmful organisms that may have hitched a ride on your food. When it gets up into your oesophagus (a process called acid reflux) it causes heartburn, most of us have suffered from that after too heavy a meal. If you have a stomach or intestinal ulcer, the acid makes it hurt – imagine a mouth ulcer having acid on it! Dental cavities are caused by lactic acid, formed by bacteria living in your mouth breaking down sugars in your food. These things are true but it does not follow that you have an acid imbalance in your body if you suffer from those conditions. Your body is, under normal circumstances, capable of regulating acidity. Your saliva contains buffers, which are compounds that resist changes in pH, to help maintain saliva at around pH 6.3. Blood in your arteries has a pH of about 7.4, which drops to 7.3 in the veins because of the carbon dioxide it is carrying (metal oxides are bases but most non-metal oxides form acidic solutions).
Teething is a perfectly normal, unavoidable consequence of being born without teeth. Many websites claim that teething causes increased acidity in the mouth and acidic diarrhea although more academic medical opinions seem to suggest otherwise. I don’t know the answer but it does seem fair to say that at the same time that teething is occurring there are some other significant changes happening to a baby that may account for many of the symptoms. They are likely to be changing their diet, getting more solid food to supplement their milk, their salivary glands start to work properly and they produce lots of drool and, since they are becoming more coordinated, they are better able to put anything they pick up into their mouths. This latter change is likely to increase the chance of them picking up a few of those bugs that might create tummy upsets. It is the great complexity of the human body that makes me very uncomfortable about any health product that claims to be able to treat a huge range of different conditions.
Things from the website that ring alarm bells for me include…
- When “the ends of the wood beads [...] darken” it is losing its effectiveness and you need to buy a new one. Wouldn’t anything you wore 24 hours a day for three months change colour? It doesn’t mean it is doing any good.
- “native Americans were the first to discover” Hazelwood’s medicinal qualities. This logical fallacy is called an appeal to antiquity. We have only known that micro-organisms cause diseases since the middle of the 19th century. Appealing to the wisdom of people who had no idea how anything in nature actually worked, had life expectancies of around 40 years and would likely cling to anything if it offered some comfort, ought not to impress us in 2010.
- “The Hazelwood products are completely 100% Natural”. Overlooking the tautology (I am as guilty as anyone of such things), what is so good about natural? Arsenic is natural, so are strychnine and gravity but all three can be lethal if treated without due care and attention.
- Testimonials from people but no sign of any real scientific research; if Hazelwood can do all this, where are the controlled experiments?
Any one of you knows enough science to consider things carefully, whether it is advice from your friends or articles you read in the papers or online. Turn on your critical thinking and ask yourself how likely the claims being made really are.
- What would be a good base to treat too much acid in your stomach?
- How many teeth does an adult normally have?
- What enzyme in saliva breaks starch down into sugar?
- Name a disease caused by a bacterium and one caused by a virus.
- Why do you think babies are normally born without teeth?
- What is Corylus cornuta?