Enlisting dentists to fight meth
And more recent highlights from the Ideas blog
Methamphetamine addiction is the new crack epidemic—a scourge that rips up communities, especially rural ones, and has frustrated many attempts to slow it down. Now a new project from the Tufts School of Dental Medicine suggests that an important weapon in the fight could be dentists.
The idea, as explained in a recent issue of the Tufts Dental Medicine Magazine, was developed by Jennifer Towers after a vacation trip to the small Idaho town of Coeur d’Alene. Towers, the dental school’s director of research affairs, saw lots of young Idahoans with really bad teeth, a side effect of rampant addiction to methamphetamine. The drug can cause teeth gnashing so intense it leads to cracked enamel and, eventually, a grotesque state of tooth decay known as “meth mouth.”
“Meth mouth” is often the most overt sign of addiction, and to Towers that suggests dentists and hygienists should play a frontline role in combatting it. “Meth mouth really dovetails well with drug prevention efforts because it’s so startling,” she says. She designed a screensaver of images of meth mouth that dentists can play in their exam rooms as well as a graphic novel aimed at preteens and a software application that lets you “degrade” a mouth over time to simulate the effects of meth use. The idea is to horrify people—especially teenagers—enough to prevent them from ever trying the drug. In focus groups, Towers has found the response to be strong. “I got a group of 14-year-old girls to be very silent when I showed them the before and after pictures [of meth addicts]. Especially in mid-teen range, they’re pretty concerned about their appearance.”
When information grows on trees
Data visualizationis a hot field these days, with artists transforming information into any number of innovative graphic forms. A new book from visualization wunderkind Manuel Lima teases out the astonishing creativity applied over the years to just one approach: the tree. “The Book of Trees” takes a richly illustrated tour through tree diagrams from as long ago as 1202—when they tended to be made to look like actual trees, with trunks, branches, and leaves. Eight hundred years later the tree diagram persists, though often highly abstracted (the modern visualization known as a “tree-map” no longer looks like a tree at all). It’s clear the tree works as a powerful device for displaying hierarchies and family relations, a perennial goal of organizing data. And there’s also a certain power in presenting data through a natural form. Trees, which are real, lend a sense of authority to statistics, which sometimes lie.
‘Just sex from start to finish’
It’s easy to assume that American culture only grows more permissive over time, but fans of vintage movies know the arrow doesn’t always move that way. A story earlier this month by Mallory Ortberg on The Toast recalls the brief period known as Pre-Code Hollywood, when movies were far more scandalous than they would be again for decades.
The pre-code era began in the late 1920s, with the introduction of sound to movies. The technological improvement and lack of any strict content regulation created a kind of Wild West of film production. Ortberg’s favorites include “Babyface,” the 1933 film starring Barbara Stanwyck (“just sex from start to finish”) and frothily titled movies like “Sin Takes a Holiday,” “Merrily We Go to Hell,” and “Hips, Hips, Hooray.”
The era ended in 1934, when a wave of Catholic protests led Hollywood to start enforcing the Motion Picture Production Code, a list of rules about what could appear onscreen that had been created in 1930. Suddenly, movies needed a certificate of approval before being released and were forbidden from depicting things like “actual childbirth,” “ridicule of the clergy,” and “licentious or suggestive nudity.” Not until 1968 was the code replaced by the more flexible MPAA rating system we know today. Aside from reminding us that the past could be a pretty risqué place, the whole episode demonstrates the tidal forces that determine where we draw cultural lines: Technology opens up expressive possibilities that an alarmed society moves to rein back in.