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A Brief History of Braces

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A word to all the pre-teens out there who are suffering through constant taunts of "metalmouth": at least you're in good company. Braces go all the way back to the days of the mummies; some of them have been found with crude metal bands wrapped around their teeth. Archaeologists think those bands were connected by catgut, stretched taut to pull the teeth together. (Mmm, sanitary!) Hippocrates and Aristotle are both on record wondering about ways to straighten teeth, too, and the Etruscans (precursors of the Romans) buried their dead with their dental appliances still installed. One Roman who died in Egypt even had a super-deluxe version; his teeth were bound with gold wire, which may make him the first recorded person in history to sport a blinged-out grill.

Heavy Metal

Interest in having a straight, neat smile apparently resurged in the 1700s, right about the time that George Washington was popularizing the idea of wooden teeth. Oddly enough, it was the French, those global arbiters of chic, who introduced the most terminally unfashionable accessory of all time. In 1728, French dentist Pierre Fauchard published a book called the The Surgeon Dentist, describing an extraordinarily painful-sounding device called a bandeau. A horseshoe-shaped piece of metal, it supposedly helped expand the arch, although we think it may have been primarily intended as a torture device. But the dentist to the King of France liked it too, and the bandeau stayed in vogue until 1819, when Christophe Delabarre came up with the wire crib, which was a lot closer to today's braces.

Over the next 100 years, dentists would make huge strides in understanding how the teeth worked (and why they so often fell out). But braces themselves largely remained unchanged until the mid-20th century. Most were made from gold, platinum, silver, steel, gum rubber, or vulcanite, although orthodontists occasionally turned instead to ivory, zinc, copper, brass, or—believe it or not—wood. The wires were almost always made of gold, however, because the metal was so easy to shape. (Stainless steel was widely available, but it didn't replace gold until the late 1950s.) And all of them wrapped entirely around the teeth. Dentists didn't figure out how to glue the brackets onto the front of the teeth until the mid-70s, and they didn't move them to the backside of the teeth until the mid-80s.

This article was excerpted from 'In the Beginning: The Origins of Everything,' which is available in the mental_floss store.

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique
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Whether you’re dealing with co-worker chaos or pressure to perform on a project, it’s difficult to excel at work when you're extremely stressed. Can’t escape the office? Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing—also known as combat breathing, four-count breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing—to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.

“It’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you”—both literally and figuratively—“and you need to be able to stay calm,” explains clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who demonstrates a version of tactical breathing in Tech Insider’s video below.

Vranich is the author of 2016’s Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. Watch, learn, and—of course—inhale and exhale along with her until you feel zen enough to salvage the remainder of your workday.

[h/t Business Insider]

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