Monday, March 29, 2010

Concentrated Bad Luck

I have some theories on luck. My first theory is something called the "Universal Luck Constant" meaning there's only so much good luck to go around in the universe. If you use up a lot of luck in one area, there's less to go around in another.  For example: one time my friend and I parked out car in the city to play pool for an hour or two. We didn't put any money in the parking meter - thus risking a parking ticket. We both played one of the worst games of pool in our lives. We couldn't sink a ball to save our lives. When we returned to the car, there was no ticket. We used up all our luck by not getting a ticket. We had no luck left over to play pool.

Another theory about luck is that you can have a lot of bad luck in a short amount of time, but then things turn around afterwords. In February of 2008 I had a really bad month. This is what happened (in chronological order):
It snowed a lot
That was the February of an almost record breaking winter. Pastor Jack went to Jamaica on a missions trip. Robin went to Italy on a class trip. The other two kids were away at school. This left Wendy and I at home. So I did as much of the shovelling as I could. It snowed 4 our of every 5 days.  Shovelling was a daily chore.  I was really getting tired of it. Ottawa almost broke a record that winter for amount of snow.
My uncle died
This was, by far, the worst part of that February. He should have lived to 120 years. It was the uncle with whom I lived when I lived in Toronto. He is greatly missed.
I ordered a used CD online, and when I got it, it was damaged.
I blogged about this before. The day I received the CD was the day my uncle died. I decided to deal with the CD when I returned from Toronto. When I returned, I found out the deadline for returns had passed.
My camera stopped working
It was hard to describe what was wrong with the CD, so I decided to take a picture. When I did that, I saw that my camera wasn't working.
My first cavities in years
Since my last trip to the dentist I had taken better care of my teeth than ever before, yet I got a cavity. Two of them, in fact.  For the first time in my life, I was confident that this trip to the dentist would end well. It didn't. I had two cavities! I began to suspect a dental conspiracy. When I got the cavities filled my dentist took liberties and did some other work that I hadn't asked her to do. That extra work wasn't covered by my insurance. This eventually broke down my trust in her, so I had to find another dentist. You have to trust your health care providers.
A button fell off my jacket
I found this nice corduroy jacket at The Bay. I wear it at work. Then a button fell off. Upon examination, I saw a second button was getting close to falling off. No big deal - I'd just sew them back on.
I lost my sewing kit
This is not a big deal. My sewing kit is one of the $2 kits you find in the dollar store. It has some thread, a few needles, scissors, etc. It wasn't a huge deal, just an annoyance. I wasn't able to sew a button that had fallen off my jacket (see above).
My desktop computer stopped working
The day I realized I lost my sewing kit, I decided I wanted to watch a DVD on my desktop computer. When I turned the computer on, it didn't work. The video card was broken. Oh well, I still had my laptop. My laptop only has a 12" monitor, but it's better than nothing. And, it's an Apple so it "just works."
The DVD software in my laptop stopped working.
When I inserted the DVD, and the DVD software started, my computer froze. I rebooted and tried again. It froze again. I tried starting the DVD software without inserting a DVD into the computer. The computer froze. I looked around the Interwebs and found out that on my specific laptop model (12" PowerBook G4) the DVD software with that specific version of Mac OS X didn't work. I had to wait for Apple to fix the problem and release a patch.
As the last thing happened I was really starting to loose it. Everything was going wrong that month. The last four items happened on the same day. The only good thing that happened that month was that I signed my indeterminate contract at work. That means there is no determined end to my employment with the federal government. Other than that, everything was going wrong. When I couldn't watch a DVD that day on either of my computers, I just grabbed my iPod and listened to some soothing music whislt lying in the fetal position on my bed.

See how all that luck was concentrated into that one month?

Then March began. This is what happened in March:
I re-ordered that CD
It was in perfect condition when I received it. In the end I spent as much on the two used CDs as I would have spent on one new CD.
My camera got fixed
On a whim, I took my camera into Blacks to ask if they had seen my problem before. The guy at Blacks looked at it and told me "Yes I have seen this. In fact, that's a known problem with these cameras. Cannon is aware of the problem, and they're fixing this problem for free, regardless of warranty status." He told me how to go about getting it fixed. Yay!! I didn't have buy a new camera!
I learned a lot about oral health
My suspicion of the dental profession led me to do a lot of research. I found out some things like how cavities can heal themselves given the right conditions. I discovered something called xylitol, an all-natural sugar substitute that kills the bacteria that causes things like cavities, gum disease, inner-ear infections, and some throat infections. There's also evidence that it helps the bones absorb calcium. It has 40% of the calaries of sugar. It's digested independently of insulin, so it's safe for diabetics. The only downsides are that it's a wee bit expensive, and hard to find. I did find it in January of 2009, and I've had great dental reports since then.
I found my sewing kit
This happened within the first couple of days of March. I found it in the jacket that had the missing button. When I found it, I knew the month was starting to turn around.  I promptly fixed the buttons on that jacket.
Apple patched their DVD player software
Apple released the patch, which I installed allowing me to watch DVDs on my laptop again!

I thought it was so funny how everything was concentrated into February of that month. By the end of the month I was really feeling defeated by life. Once March arrived, things started turning around immediately. Then life returned to normal.

I also noticed something about bad luck.  Only one of those things was really bad; my uncle passing away.  The rest of them were small.  The thing that made them seem worse was that it felt like every single day something else went wrong.  Even if it was just coming home and having to shovel a foot of snow off the driveway. By February the snowbank at the corner of the driveway was about 8 feet tall, and it was quite the feat of strength throwing snow over that hill. The bad luck incidences were accumulative.  Eventually you just need something to go right.

So that is an example of Concentrated Bad Luck. 2009 was like that too, and I'll get to that later.

Here's a Dilbert comic illustrating the Universal Luck Constant:

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Dental Conspiracy

When I was growing up, I found my oral health didn't seem to be connected to my oral care. The more I brushed and flossed, the more cavities I got. When I brushed and flossed less, I got fewer, or no cavities.  When I was in college I never went to the dentist, and I was pretty slack about brushing and flossing. When I was in university, I went to the dentist. I expected to have 17 cavities, 5 extractions, and 2 root canals. Instead, the dentist said "Well, you have no cavities, but you need to brush and floss more." So I did.  Diligently.

Two years later, once I had my job with dental benefits, I went to the dentist again. For the first time in my life I was confident I would have a good check-up. I had brushed twice every day. I flossed more than I ever had before. When I would drink sugary drinks, I would immediately chase them down with water. Take a sip of Pepsi, then a sip of water.

The dentist took a look, and some X-Rays and said "You have two cavities."

WHAT?! That doesn't make sense! I neglect my teeth, I'm fine. I take care of them and I get two cavities?!  I suspected a dental conspiracy. I looked around the Internet for evidence to support my theory and couldn't find much. But, I did find an awful lot of information, which I will share with you now in the form of myths and facts.
Sugar causes cavities
It doesn't. Acid causes cavities. Acid slowly dissolves the minerals in your enamel. Eventually, your enamel becomes weak and worn away, and a hole appears. That's a cavity. A certain strain of bacteria uses sugar to replicate and create acid. Acid can also come in the form of acidic food (like oranges and lemons), acidic drinks, or your saliva could be acidic.
The only way to fix cavities is to have them filled
This is mostly true.  The truth is that your saliva has minerals in it that strengthens tooth enamel. But, the more acidic your mouth is, the longer that process will take. In fact, if your mouth is acidic enough, or for much of the time, the cavity will grow faster than the minerals will be replenished. If you put your mouth into a non-acidic condition, you can remineralize your teeth with your saliva.  However, with a full-on cavity (a hole, as opposed to weak teeth), I doubt there's any substitute for a filling.
Fluoride in our water prevents cavities
If this were the case then cavities would only be found in areas without water fluoridation.  (Sault Ste. Marie, during my time there, did not fluoridate their water, yet even without much brushing or flossing, I had no cavities.) It's true that fluoride, in very small doses, can help teeth remineralize. In order for fluoride to work on your teeth, it needs to be in contact with your teeth. Fluoride in a mouth wash, or in toothpaste will help, but in drinking water, it won't do much once you've swallowed the water. Fluoride is an industrial byproduct. In the bloodstream it can be extremely harmful to people and animals. It's true that cities keep fluoride levels low enough not to harm most people. But if you drink more water than most, you may consume more fluoride than is harmless to you. The bottom line is this: A dilute fluoride rinse (0.05% Sodium Fluoride) in a mouth wash is good for your teeth. Due to the nature of fluoride, a stronger concentration is not necessarily better than a weaker one. Stick with a 0.05% sodium fluoride mouth wash - so I've read.
Sugar-Free gum is good for your teeth
That depends. It's true only if your sugar-free gum has the right sweetener in it. It probably doesn't. It probably has sorbitol, manitol, aspertame, and/or maltitol in it. None of those are good for you. Most sugar-free gums use sorbitol as the main sweetener. The bad bacteria in your mouth quickly learn how to use sorbitol instead of sugar. These sweeteners can cause gastro-intestinal problems. The sweetener you want to look for is xylitol. Xylitol is an all-natural sweetener that the bad bacteria in your mouth never learn to use, even after years of exposure. Xylitol also makes your mouth alkaline, so your saliva can remineralize your teeth. Look for Xylitol gum at your local health food stores.
Xylitol will give you diarrhea
It's true that in large quantities xylitol will give approximately one third of the population loose stools until their system becomes used to it. But, for dental purposes, you only need about 6.5 grams to 10 grams a day. You don't even need to swallow it. You can chew xylitol gum.
If Xylitol were so great, why don't we hear more about it?
Good question. I've found that some dentists are somewhat aware of the existence of xylitol as a molecule, but are unaware of it's dental benefits. Either that, or they don't want you to know too much. It could really cut down a dentist's business.  :) The only downside to xylitol I can find is that it's expensive compared to other sweeteners. It's also not appropriate for all types of baking.
Sealants will help protect my molars from cavities
They will as long as they were applied correctly, and they stay on perfectly. Once they start wearing down, cavities can form beneath them that can't be seen with the naked eye. Besides, sealants don't fix the problem. They're a band-aid solution, except it's like putting on a band-aid before even getting a cut. Wouldn't it be better to fix the problem (ie: bacteria and acidic saliva)?
It's a good idea to take dental advice from a computer programmer.
It's not. Don't do it. (BTW: I'm a computer programmer, darn it, not a dentist!) It's better to take dental advice from a dentist. This dentist maintains a blog where she answers people's questions. It's really quite informative. She wrote a book called Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye where she explains things more fully. She has come up with an easy system you can use to keep your teeth healthy and shiny. You can buy the products from her site, but you can buy them elsewhere with no profit to her.