The tooth fairy is really in for a surprise. I hope that she knows what she is getting into. It might be more than she bargained for.
No matter how good your dental hygiene is, you may be harboring fugitives.
Teeth and dental care are very serious subjects for me. I expect that I think about my choppers more than most folks. This is because I am from a dental family. Let me explain a bit. Though there are no Bellincampi dentists yet, my family owns a dental laboratory. My childhood was filled with plaster models of teeth, dentures aplenty, night guards and those little blue papers for checking a bite. The business, started by my father and now owned by my brother, still thrives and keeps the dental industry a part of my adult life.
Thus, I was quite intrigued to learn something new about teeth recently that also aligned with my interest in wildlife.
We all know that we should brush and floss at least twice a day for good oral health and to reduce harmful bacteria that could cause cavities or worse. But I have some news for you that is even less palatable than a mouthful of bacteria.
The bacteria in your mouth are not alone. It has been estimated that there may be as many as 500 unique species of viruses, yeasts, fungi and other protozoans marauding in your mouth. For the sake of sanity, I will focus on only one of the more charismatic megafauna of the bunch.
Cavorting with the multitudes of oral wildlife are single-celled organisms called tooth amoebas, or, more formally, Entamoeba gingivalis. These mouth monsters (being larger than most of the other oral flora and fauna) are luckily microscopic, so we don’t have to see them. Nor does anyone else have to see the beasts, since they are also transparent.
Though I have no idea how many of them live in your mouth, scientists estimate that it would take 40 of these amoebas to cover the head of a pin. Worst of all, we didn’t start our lives with them.
Infants are born free of tooth amoebas. Most of us, though, will soon catch them from oral contact with another human or, worse yet, from pets.
Amoebas, you may remember from high school, are simple creatures (protozoans to be exact) that contain a cell membrane, nucleus and jelly-like material that fills out their cell cavity. They have the ability to alter their shape, which allows for locomotion. The origin of the word amoeba is amoibe, a Greek word meaning change. Thus you can picture them oozing around as they prowl your mouth and gums looking for food.
Not surprisingly, there is lots of nourishment to be found in your mouth. No matter how well you floss, there will always be small nuggets of organic matter for them to munch on, including food particles, sloughed-off human cells, and that pesky aforementioned bacteria that live in your mouth too. Since amoebas do not have mouths themselves, they consume their food by using pseudopodia or “false feet” to surround the food, and digest it within their cell.
Once you have one, you will have many, since they reproduce by dividing themselves in half. They live in peace, doing little or no damage to your health, but you will want to keep their numbers in check by brushing and flossing often.
Neither you, I, nor even the tooth fairy can avoid the attack of teeth amoebas. We can only hope for a life of limited amoebas, few cavities and a good dental plan.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.