Wanderings, travel, photographs and skiing…

Why is there rampant gum disease in Myanmar (Burma)?

By on April 3, 2015 in Myanmar/Burma

The first day I was in Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma) I was shocked at the level of gum disease I saw. I kept seeing people with stained teeth and gums. Terribly stained teeth and gums. And it looked like some of them were bleeding. Then I realised…. It was betel quid chewing that was causing the stains and the red spit.

Betel quids consists of areca nuts (also called betel nuts) and tobacco, wrapped in a slaked lime-coated betel leaf. Sounds delightful! And it is incredibly popular, with sellers on most street corners. The photo below is of one such seller. The pot of white stuff is the lime.

A betel quid seller preparing for a busy evening. That is a lot of leaves.

The betel quid is shown in the photo below and it consists of a betel leaf (the green heart shaped leaf), which is covered in slaked lime (the white paste), and then sprinkled with tobacco (brown flakes), and areca nuts (the brown and white bits in the image). This is then rolled up and chewed.

Another betel quid seller.

The betel quids are chewed because they give the chewer a ‘lift’, like a very very strong coffee. Each quid costs around 5 cents US, and users can get through a significant number each day, in some cases 10 or more. Chewing the quids can lead, not only stained gums and teeth, but also to oral cancer.

The active ingredient in the nut and the leaf is Arecoline, with the function of the lime to keep the mouth of the chewer alkali so Arecoline can enter the blood stream.

No, I didn’t try one…

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