Stupidity in USA Today, the Times, and your local newspaper.

Media criticism.
Nov. 8 2005 6:00 PM

Stupidity on Parade

USA Today. The Times editorial page. Your local newspaper.

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To review: Meth mouth describes the rampant tooth decay and loss observed in some users of methamphetamine. But as the Merck Manual of Medical Information explains, such tooth decay can result whenever the production of saliva is inhibited. Meth and other drugs—some blood-pressure medications, for example—can shut down the saliva glands. Denied the regular flush of saliva that keeps teeth cleansed of bacteria, the mouth becomes a dank decay factory. Many meth users turn to sugared sodas to alleviate "dry mouth," and the sugar only fuels the decay-causing bacteria. If the meth user neglects his dental hygiene, as many reportedly do, it's goodbye choppers, hello dentures.

Although no scientific study links any chemical found in street methamphetamine with tooth decay, dentists, dental technicians, editorialists, and well-meaning citizens continue to offer their awesome stupidity to the press, and the press publishes it as fact. Here's a recent sampling:

The drug is made with an acid, and can damage every tooth so bad that people need dentures because the damage is too extensive to fix, [Dr. Carter Wright] said. — Times-Standard(Eureka, Calif.), Nov. 4

"Those chemicals in there, they eat your teeth up, just burn them up," Dental Technician Zenobia Pope said. —KWCH 12 (Hutchinson-Wichita, Kans.), Nov. 7

Dr. Hugh Ogletree, a Phenix City dentist, frequently sees the drug's toxic fallout when he treats Russell County jail inmates who are addicts.

"I can look at their mouth and tell," Ogletree said. "The hydrochloric acid dissolves the minerals in the teeth. You pour hydrochloric acid on a car fender and it will eat a hole in it." — Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Oct. 26

Another effect is "meth mouth"—tooth decay that results from a poor diet, a lack of dental hygiene and the corrosive properties of the drug. — Laramie Boomerang(Wyo.), Oct. 26

Also, the majority of heavy users must seek medical care due to "meth mouth," which refers to the rotting of their teeth from smoking poisonous substances like drain cleaner. — Oscoda Press (Mich.), Oct. 26

Prisons are seeing higher dental expenditures because of "meth mouth," or tooth decay, due to constant exposure to caustic chemicals. — Metro Pulse (Knoxville, Tenn.), Sept. 21

Some of the worst cases involve patients who smoke methamphetamine, a drug made from hydrochloric acid, [Dr. Mark] Buckner said. The disease is commonly called, ''Meth mouth.''

''It totally eats away the enamel and causes severe decay, to the point that all they've got left are roots,'' Buckner said. — Birmingham News (Ala.), Sept. 2

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But none of this misinformation approaches the advanced stupidity achieved by the editorial writers at the Calgary Herald for the newspaper's Aug. 15 edition. They write:

Just as kids were shown smoke-blackened, cancerous lungs, they should learn about such things as "meth mouth," caused by the body excreting the drug. For days after its use, the crystals ooze from the skin and literally rot the gums from accumulation.

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Thanks to my old friend Jeff Riggenbach, who I believe coined the phrase "the awesome stupidity of the common herd." Thanks also go out to Daniel Radosh for alerting me to the USA Today bogus trend story and to the unnamed editorial writer who spotted the Times' courageous stand against insurrection. Send your tips and your favorite turn of phrase to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.