New Zealand is like a large laboratory where Nature has performed many experiments, often under conditions free from variable factors which are the bane of the research worker. Some of these date back into the dim ages, but none is more extraordinary than the dental experiment on the human population in the last fifty to one hundred years. At the beginning of this recent period, the native Maori had a superb physique and a dentition so consistently excellent that it had never been excelled. Now, with a few exceptions, the teeth and mouths of New Zealanders (both Maori and white races) are so bad that they are known to be the worst in the world. The people of this country have food in ample quantity but eat chiefly those compounded principally of highly refined and finely ground sweetened cereal. There is little appetite for fresh vegetables and fruit, and what can be afforded is often ruined in preparation. Much muscle meat is eaten. There is widespread complacency and willingness to accept present conditions, and make provision for their treatment. So far the value of prevention has not captured the popular nor the professional imagination, although in some places there is sincere and intelligent desire for it.
In a recent investigation involving 2268 children (aged 5 and 6 years) in various parts of New Zealand, 48.6 percent of the teeth present were carious. There has been no recent comprehensive estimate of the incidence of caries in New Zealanders of all ages, but there is very good reason to believe that the proportion of individuals having naturally sound teeth is negligible. Dental prosthesis is so much in evidence as to be thought fashionable. The great majority clamor for the Government to provide treatment. There is already a well organized ethical dental profession. The demand for dental skill has been amply met, though it cannot control the situation.
If white flour and its products and refined sugar were suddenly unprocurable, the great majority of New Zealanders would be helpless and hopeless. These commodities are the first that are sought in an emergency, and the first that are budgeted for supplies. Whole-meal flour is made by several millers, but may be distributed only a limited distance. Private individuals desiring to make their own whole-meal flour are not permitted to buy first-grade wheat. Large confectionery firms are flourishing, and close beside every school is a store that sells biscuits and sweets or candy. New Zealand holds the world record for the annual average per capita consumption of sugar—well over 100 lbs. The finely divided starch particles of modern white flour, and the associated sweetness with which it is usually consumed, introduce physical factors of lodgeability and fermentability. Vegetables are not grown by many people who could grow them, and in a great majority of cases are peeled thickly, boiled excessively, and flavored with condiments.
150 SUMMARIES ON CARIES
Fresh fruit is consistently so expensive that for many people it is an occasional luxury. The same applies to fish. Surplus from a good catch is dumped at sea rather than lower the market price, and much of the best fish is exported. Where there are small and rather isolated groups of coastal Maori, sea foods replace much of the usual carbohydrate food, and much better teeth are found. On many dairy farms the cream goes to the butter factory, skim milk to the pigs, whole milk to the cheese factory. Neither milk nor cheese is used much in farmers’ homes ; butter is bought from the grocer ; white bread and even vegetables are delivered at the farm. When the teeth of the Maori race were perfect there were no mammals in the land but man himself, a small species of bat, a rat, and the Maori dog, and there was no milk supply for the weaned child. Thus it is obvious that milk was not essential to physical and dental well–being. If conditions were the same, this statement would still hold, but the dietary and food-preparation methods of the old Maori are not practicable today. Although a daily ration of milk to school children is now well established, even in dairying districts, there is no proof that addition of milk to ordinary devitalized diet prevents or cures dental disorders. Malnutrition, sickness and ill-health in general, and dental disease in particular, are as prevalent among those who have much milk as among those who have little or none; and sub-normal health, in its various manifestations, is so common as to be accepted as ” normal.” New Zealand drinking waters cannot be blamed, for the old Maori drank nothing else and flourished. It is possible that soil deficiencies occur in parts of the country—soil surveys are being made—but few people depend on the foods produced in their own, or any one region, and it is unlikely that soil deficiencies, if present, are of much significance in public ill health. In any case, the consumption of locally produced milk could not compensate for a local soil deficiency. The ” milk cult ” is hindering public recognition of the real problem. The actual faults in the New Zealand diet and general manner of living should be obvious, and their correction could be simple.
References: N. Z. Den. J., 1934, 1937, 1938; Annual Report (N. Z. Gov’t), N. Z. Dep’t of Health-1937(Appendix C).