Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Letters:

Score one for science

Three cheers for Wen Chia-hung (溫家宏) and Fang Pao-yu (方寶玉), the Chiayi County students who used scientific principles they'd learned in elementary school to do something truly useful for society: test and disprove an old superstition ("Students debunk tribal healing myth," Sept. 4, page 4).

Although Western-medicalscience has known for many decades that toothache resulted from decay caused by the destructive action of bacteria on the tooth, Wen and Pao's Tsao Aboriginal tribe believed that such pain was produced by "caries worms" in the decayed tooth.

Perhaps the tribal elders had been so isolated from standard dental practice and focused on their own people that they hadn't noted that the vast majority of Taiwanese with toothaches were being successfully treated on the basis of medical theories which did not even consider the existence of "caries worms." Perhaps it was these young girls' exposure to such non-tribal dentistry that made them suspicious of and want to test their tribe's ideas about the worms.

Whatever the case, the conclusions of the young students' well-designed experiment -- that "caries worms" don't exist and that what had been thought to be such worms falling out of decayed teeth during palliative herbal treatment were actually worms living on the herbs used in the treatment -- should help the more openminded members of their community to move forward into more accurate knowledge of their own bodies and the best ways to care for them.

In fact, toothache is a potentially serious condition which should receive immediate professional medical attention.

If the tooth decay underlying the pain is not treated promptly, it can lead to even more severe infection, which can penetrate into the jaw bones and contaminate the bloodstream, producing risk of potentially fatal inflammation of the heart.

Hopefully, now more Tsao people will avoid such negative outcomes, living more healthily and happily.

With the school year just beginning, students all over the island have lots of time to think about how they might follow the example of Wen and Fang by carrying out experiments to scientifically test the wide range of traditional superstitions which hold back Taiwan's progress in so many ways.

Maybe there could even be a new student organization created nationwide to share, disseminate, and support the results of such research. If I were a member of the organization, I'd nominate Wen and Fang as the first co-presidents.

Matt Nicodemus

Taipei

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