eating food

Dr. Van der Bilt at the Department of Head and Neck in the Wageningen University Medical Center Utrecht (The Netherlands) studies the neuromuscular elements of chewing. You often hear about the impressive power of the jaw muscles. In terms of pressure per single burst of activity, these are the strongest muscles we have. But it is not the jaw’s power to destroy that fascinates Dr. Van der Bilt; it is its nuanced ability to protect. Dr. Van der Bilt isn’t a dentist, however. He is an oral physiologist.

Some interesting points of the article (in ‘The Marvels in Your Mouth’, NYTimes, March 25, 2013 by Mary Roach): 

  • The way you chew, for example, is as unique and consistent as the way you walk or fold your shirts.
  • Teeth and jaws are impressive not for their strength but for their sensitivity, Dr. Van der Bilt has found. Human teeth can detect a grain of sand or grit 10 microns in diameter. A micron is 1/25,000 of an inch.
  • Round foods are particularly treacherous because they match the shape of the trachea. If a grape goes down the wrong way, it blocks the tube so completely that no breath can be drawn around it. Hot dogs, grapes and round candies take the top three slots in a list of killer foods published in the July 2008 issue of The International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology.
  • Those who can chew want to chew. We especially enjoy crunch. A colleague of Dr. Van der Bilt, Ton van Vliet, has spent the past seven years figuring out just how crunch works.

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