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This week's Book of the Week feature is Soil Fertility & Human & Animal Health, Vol. VIIIby William A. Albrecht.

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From Chapter 26: Our Teeth and Our Soils

That Hereford, Texas, is in the part of the United States of highly fertile soils is not so startling when the geography of dental defects on a larger scale is considered. The recent physical examinations of the millions of men taken into the Army and the Navy give a wealth of data in relation to the many possible factors in control of our health and of the condition of our teeth. These data may well be correlated with the fertility of the soil for their suggestive value in listing many of our health troubles as possible deficiencies originating in the soil. In these data and records there is an opportunity to relate the caries of the teeth to the soils of the United States according to their pattern of fertility, or to their degree of development by the climatic forces.

Very recently Comdr. C. A. Schlack and Lt. Birren of the Navy Medical Research Institute presented some data by regions of the United States which represented the condition of the teeth of 69,584 men coming on active duty in the Navy in 1941–42. These represented 93 percent of a lot from which 7 percent had already been eliminated for dental reasons. This screening reduced the regional differences, but even in spite of this, those regional differences show a decidedly interesting relation to the development of the soil.

From the report of these naval officers, one is almost astounded at the poor dental condition in this sample of our people. It is especially serious when these naval inductees represented the mean, youthful age of 24 years with 82 percent of them below the age of 30 years. For the group as a whole the report reads as follows: “The mean number of simple and compound cavities was found to be about ten per person … and five fillings per person.” “Few teeth required extraction, despite the large number of carious teeth, the mean number per person being about 0.2. In contrast, the mean number of missing teeth was 4.7 at the time of the examination.”

This is a sad commentary on the dental condition of our young men when the statistics list them for an average of 15 carious areas each, in spite of the regular encouragement by the radio to use the tooth brush daily and to “see your dentist twice a year.” But when the chemical composition of our teeth tells us that they consist mainly of calcium phosphate, and when the foremost fertilizer treatments needed to grow even carbonaceous vegetation on our soils are lime (calcium) and superphosphate (phosphorus), there is good reason that the poor dental condition of these naval inductees should be connected with the low fertility of these soils. When soils need lime and phosphate to grow agricultural vegetation much more will they need these fertilizer additions of calcium and phosphorus in order to pass these nutrient elements on to the animals and the humans in the chain of decreasing chances to get these soil-borne requisites for good sound teeth.

By recalculating the dental data of these naval inductees so as to make them represent more nearly the soil areas according to increasing degrees of soil development in going from the arid West to the humid East, the correlation is very striking. It is highly significant that the lowest numbers of carious teeth are in the longitudinal belt of dual-state width just west of the Mississippi River. Hereford, Texas, is included in this belt. As one goes either westward or eastward from this belt to other similar belts, the tooth troubles increase. This increase, however, is much larger in going eastward, that is, to the excessively developed soils under higher rainfall and temperatures, than it is in going westward to the underdeveloped soils.

Here is a clear indication that those soils with a high capacity for protein production, because of their high mineral fertility, are the soils that have also grown better teeth. These are the soils of the open prairies.

Quite differently, however, those soils that have a low capacity for producing legumes, beef, and mutton and have been growing starchy grains and fattening the livestock, have a much higher number of carious teeth per person. These are the soils of the forested areas or the potential producers of mainly fuel foods.

The maximum number of caries was exhibited by the men from the New England States where the cavities amounted to 13.5 accompanied by 7.8 fillings per person or a total of 21.3 carious areas per mouth. With such numbers of defects it seems a pity that we can’t have more than 32 adult teeth. In the Middle Atlantic States just south of New England, the total figure was 19.6. Still farther south the corresponding value was 13.4 of which 9.7 were cavities and 3.7 were fillings.

In this case of the soil and teeth as one goes south from New England there are three factors that may help explain the decrease in caries. There is first, a decreasing ratio of rainfall to evaporation and therefore less relative leaching of the soil; second, there is less acidity to break down the mineral reserves because of the nature of the clay; and third, in the South there is the more general use of fertilizers consisting mainly of carriers of calcium and phosphorus.

In these regional data there are the suggestions that the curve of the condition of the teeth is the reciprocal curve of the fertility of the soil. We may expect also, from these relations, that the pattern of soil fertility is in control not only of the health of the teeth, but also of health in general. This is strongly suggested by a careful study, reported by Dr. L. M. Hepple of the University of Missouri, of the more than 80 thousand draftee rejections from more than 310 thousand selectees for the Army from Missouri alone. He points out, for example, that Kansas had lower rejection rates than Missouri. This is another way of telling us that the health troubles increase in going from the calcareous soils of Kansas to the lime-deficient soils of Missouri.

Equally as interesting in terms of the increase in draftee rejections as the soils are less fertile, are his data in going across Missouri from the northwest to the southeast, which means going from the legume and cattle area to that of cotton. His series of figures for draftee rejections in making that traverse of the state was 208, 247, 280, 339, and 368 per thousand selectees. Even for an area so limited as Missouri, the health condition in terms of Army standards reflects the pattern of the fertility of the soil.

From all of the data of the inductees into the Army and the Navy there is the suggestion that more of our so-called “diseases” may well be statistically mapped for the United States and compared with the map of the soil fertility. If all other body irregularities as well as those of the teeth were so viewed, it is highly probable that many of our diseases would be interpreted as degenerative troubles originating in nutritional deficiencies going back to insufficient fertility of, the soil. Surely the millions of health records of the inductees into our national defense will not be left lying idle in Federal archives when they can be sorted out as specific diseases, plotted as densities over the soil fertility pattern, and possibly give suggestions for combating the failing health that rests on the great fact that degeneration of the human body goes with the exploitation of the soil.

If the decay of teeth is linked with the declining fertility of the soil, this concept of tooth troubles may well be a pattern to guide our thinking about other health troubles, not as calls for drugs and medicines, but for conservation in terms of a new motive, namely better health via better nutrition from the ground up.

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About the Author:

Dr. William A. Albrecht, the author of these papers, was chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, where he had been a member of the staff for 43 years. He held four degrees from the University of Illinois. During a vivid and crowded career, he traveled widely and studied soils in the United States, Great Britain, on the European continent, and in Aus­tralia. Born on a farm in central Illinois in an area of highly fertile soil typical of the cornbelt and educated in his native state, Dr. Albrecht grew up with an intense interest in the soil and all things agricultural. Both as a writer and speaker, Dr. Albrecht served tirelessly as an inter­preter of scientific truth to inquiring minds and persistently stressed the basic importance of understanding and working with nature by applying the natural method to all farming, crop production, livestock raising and soil improvement. He always had a specific focus on the effect of soil character­istics upon the mineral composition of plants and the effect of the mineral composition of plants on animal nutrition and subsequent human health. Respected and recognized by scientists and agricultural leaders from around the world, Dr. Albrecht retired in 1959 and passed from the scene in May 1974 as his 86th birthday approached.

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