Dental Guinea Pigs: The Cavity Experiment of the 1940s
Dental Guinea Pigs: The Cavity Experiment of the 1940s
It was 1940 and US military scientists were feeding a bunch of guinea pigs growth hormones. Suddenly, almost overnight a large cavy grew these huge teeth and literally bit the head off one of the vets looking after them. The government hushed this up, of course, and the experiment records were locked away in a secure vault buried in the Mojave Desert seven stories underground. This is completely untrue but is the kind of thing folks eat up on the internet every day across the globe. Why is it so? We love a good story that feeds our hopes and anxieties more than we appreciate factual information. Religion is the perfect example and the human belief in invisible supernatural entities we call gods.
The Role of Guinea Pigs in Dental Science
Returning to actual scientific ground, a study in Sweden in the 1940s used kids and adults with mental disabilities as guinea pigs to reveal the dental dangers of sugar in sweets. Charming Swedish scientists fed loads of sticky candies to children with reduced mental capacities to see what would happen to their teeth and this went on for years. In my view, this is more horrific than the fiction of a monster guinea pig biting the head off a vet. The result was blackened and rotting teeth and photographs show that meant every single tooth. Gotta love those early scientists!
Why Did Swedes Perform The Cavity Experiment?
In response to an epidemic of tooth decay in children across the country, according to investigative journalist Thomas Kanger, a 1930s study found that 3 year olds had cavities in 83% of their teeth. This does not excuse such scientific and state misuse of power but does provide background. Experts and dentists at this time did not know what caused cavities. There were suspicions but no bonafide evidential proof. Enter the unsuspecting mentally disabled kids and adults. I imagine that they were initially pleased to be given sweets but I wonder if that level of pleasurable fulfilment was maintained throughout the lengthy experiment? Too much of a good thing, perhaps.
The manufacturers of candies in Sweden were happy to provide free sweets and the study was funded by them. Ironically, it was noted at the start of the study that these ’idiots’ – this was the scientific term used at this time – had much better teeth than the average Swedish child. I would speculate that their neglected institutionalised status contributed to this – nobody was giving sweets to locked up ‘idiots’ in Sweden. Only those mentally disabled subjects that could chew their food were considered for the study, as they had to chew the toffees given them.
“In medical terms at the time, an “idiot” was a person with an IQ below 25, who functioned at the level of a normal toddler. An “imbecile” had a IQ of between 26 and 50, whose intelligence was about that of a child of seven. “Morons” functioned at about the intellectual level of a child of 12.”
– LaMotte, CNN, 2019
Results Of The Dental Guinea Pig Experiment
In the beginning and for the first 2 years the children were provided with only half the average amount of sugar consumed by Swedish children and a little starch. In addition, they were given Vitamins A, C, and D – plus fluoride tablets. The result was 78% of the group had no new cavities.
Following this, it gets interesting. The next 2 years saw them given twice the amount of sugar in 3 distinct ways. A third had sticky bread made with extra sugar with meals, another third drank sugary drinks, and the final third ate chocolates, caramels, and toffees between meals. This lot were further divided into groups who ate either 8 or 24 pieces of candy between meals – this was about observing the effects of sugary stuff sticking to teeth. The horror show begins!
What Happened, Sweety, to Those Swedes?
Those who consumed the extra sugar with bread or in beverages were not noticeably much higher in caries than the first stage who had vitamins and had the halved amount of sugar. However, the tooth decay was high in the sticky toffee and candy groupings who ate them between meals. (I have to share with you here, that I found myself getting up from my chair and going to the bathroom to brush my teeth several times during the writing of this article.)
The increased cavities happened immediately after this group of mentally disabled kids began eating them, according to the study. Their teeth were destroyed by the sticky candies stuck in their teeth and researchers just watched without doing anything like fixing their teeth in many cases. Those Swedes, do you remember their approach to the Covid pandemic? You can imagine the pain of having rotting teeth and prolonged toothache on a massive scale. God love us human beings! The rights of sub-humans (this is how they were thought of) were not high on the agenda right around the world. Even today, we see in Australia disabled people getting a raw deal in so many instances, especially around finding gainful employment that does not demean these individuals. Institutionalised is out of sight, out of mind.
Do The Ends Justify The Means?
Some dentists defended the study, as it provided invaluable evidential proof about the effects of sugar and the various forms it is most damaging to dental health. The Swedes stopped giving their kids so many sugary sweets after the information from this study was released. The integral message from this horrific experiment is don’t snack on sugary foods between meals and give sticky sweets a big miss. Happy New Year by the way and what will you be consuming during the festive feasting season this year? Grandparents and their tendency to bestow sweeties on their grandkids remain an ever present danger at this time of year. It may bring a smile to the face of the kiddie but dental pain lurks just around the corner.
Note: All content and media on the Bacchus Marsh Dental House website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.
Services we mentioned:
Our mouths and oral cavities are inordinately sensitive. They are so for a number of reasons. Our lips are extremely sensitive. We are born and immediately know how to suck, as most mammals do. Life giving nutrition comes from the breast through the nipple and into...
With the 45th anniversary of Life of Brian happening soon enough, a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum is an opener appreciated by the diminishing few and relevant in the way we so often forget the things that have come before. It’s no provocation - simply...
Finding the untruth of something you’d always believed is always an interesting moment. Inevitably temperature is involved. Electric-cold Zorro-like swash across your back. A hot caterpillar prickle upside your head. Coccyx frozen, ice-filled. Warmth drowning...
Love it or hate it, Artificial Intelligence is here to stay. The terms ‘artificial’ and ‘intelligence’ are not conflicting…