Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bye Bye Bacteria!?

I've been tending to agree more and more over time with the AJATT (All Japanese All The Time) philosophy, which basically says that total immersion is the best way to learn a language. Failing that, get as much exposure as possible, and make sure you have fun. If studying becomes a drudgery, you lose motivation and everything can go to hell.

Lately I've been feeling a bit lazy and have lost some ground on the JLPT textbooks and Anki usage. However, I have been playing a lot more (Japanese) video games, and I continue to try and do some reading in Japanese. That brings me to the topic of today's post. 

One of Khatzumoto's (of AJATT) recent tweets:

Yes! I'm going to approach that a little differently. Say you want to read some news (or just read something) in Japanese, and say your vocabulary and/or grammar are limited. Sitting down with your dictionary and a long article may really help you improve. If you have the time and motivation. But if not, is it better to just do something else? Maybe, but I'd say it's worth skimming. Look up key words and anything else that may strike your fancy, but otherwise just try to get the main idea of what's going on.

I took just that approach with a Yahoo Japan article about fluorine in toothpaste. I recommend aiming for something like this, which isn't too long, is written for a general audience (meaning no extremely technical terminology), and is relatively interesting (as this was for me since I like reading about health). 

I would also suggest that for these speed readings you use either the Firefox add-on Rikaichan, or for Chrome its brother extension, Rikaikun. They're useful for getting the readings and meanings of words on the quick, but just be careful not to get too used to them as crutches.

This piece took me all of 5 minutes and I walked away with two or three new vocabulary words:

フッ素 (フっそ) = fluorine
塗る (ぬる) = to coat
弾く (はじく) = to repel

For those of you who are interested in reading or skimming it for yourself, go on. I'll just wait here for you.


Ok, good - now that they're gone, let me summarize the article for the rest of you.

The article is about protecting yourself from cavities with simple fluorine care. It starts off by noting that the amount of fluorine found in commercial products and those in hospitals and dentists' offices are different. How, you wonder? That's what the article is aiming to explain.

First off, it seems that some people think using fluorine on your teeth coats them and protects against things like water and dirt or germs (like waxing a car). Actually, it doesn't have so much to do with protecting the surface of your teeth as it does with aiding the enamel in three ways.

1. It strengthens the enamel.

2. It promotes recalcification (repair; restoration of mineral, calcium in this case).

3. It slows down the bacteria that cause cavities.

Bye for now, bacteria!

Finally, what is the difference between commercially-sold toothpaste and the hospital-caliber stuff? The former is limited by law to 1000 ppm (.1%), whereas the doctors' toothpaste packs 9000 ppm (.9%). So if you're worried about getting cavities, you should see your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning with the good stuff.

There you have it.

By the way, I searched several oral care companies' websites but failed to find any fluoride content information. According to Wikipedia, however (the next best thing to solid research), most toothpastes (I presume in the West) contain about 1450 ppm. I guess that may be why we hear about Japanese toothpastes not being as effective - because they have a comparatively lower flouride content.


  1. [GASP} Could that lower flouride content be responsible for your recent dental evaluation???

  2. Very interesting entry you have here. I'm gonna use this method to study Japanese!

  3. Eggy - hmm...could be, but I also was kind of eating a lot of chocolate and stuff like that last year.

    Rene - Thanks! Let me know how it goes!

  4. The lower level of fluoride in consumer toothpaste is necessary because the frequency and volume of use is unpredictable, and too much will actually rot your teeth. Since the dentist knows how often he sees you, he knows how often you are treated with "the hard stuff".

    If you are having tooth issues, be careful about how soon you brush after eating, particularly sweets. Sugar softens the enamel and if you brush too soon (rather than allow saliva to do its natural thing) and especially if you brush hard, you weaken it further.

  5. Thanks, Orchid! Yes, I've read that many people think we really overdo it with the fluoride in America.

    I was also reading very recently about how it's not good to brush right after eating certain foods. That's useful to know!

  6. My dentist told me to wait 20 minutes after eating to brush because the bacteria are still multiplying until then. Around that point they run out of juice and you can brush them all away. I don't know how true that is but I've always abided by it...

  7. Hey Joe, interesting. That could be true, too, but I do know that brushing too quickly can also be damaging to the enamel.

  8. Sadly I use Rikaichan a lot more as a crutch than a learning tool :(

  9. Thanks for commenting, Allie. It can be easy to rely on it, especially when there are a ton of words you don't know. I think the remedy to that is to just make sure you try to commit at least a few of those words or kanji to memory.

  10. Cool info all around, both from your post and from the comments. ^^

  11. Very interesting post :)

    I wanna steal a box of the good stuff from a dentist and leave the appropriate amount of cash on his desk ;)

  12. Thanks, Chris. I know what you mean - would be nice to have some strong stuff just to use now and then.

  13. Yay, a fellow AJATT (or similar!) fan! ^^)b

    Although my Japanese is still pretty shoddy by all accounts, it would be much worse if I studied only the "traditional" way. I much prefer reading things I find interesting. I do the uninteresting stuff as well, but only for JLPT and "things I should know if I want to work in an office properly" prep. ^^)b

    Have you checked out as well? A big claim, but he has a lot of sound advice.

  14. Hi, Ri - thanks for commenting! Sometime the "traditional way" is necessary, especially for basic grammar and vocab, but as we get to a higher level I think it becomes less and less important.

    I haven't been to that site, but I'll check it out! Thanks!

  15. You can also check out some kid's news before moving up to the big leagues. I personally skim through Yoimuri's kid's section from time to time.

    Great practice for JLPT and usually doesn't require much looking up (for N3+ folks).

    I can also second the recommendation for Fluent in 3 Months, although the website should really be called Conversational in 3 Months, it has a lot of good stuff on it.

  16. Thanks, Mac! Great point - the kids' section is also a great study resource.