hu cares | consider the toothpaste

For unobservant people (me), product labels are background noise. I don’t pay much attention to the text on a package of toilet paper or what’s written on the various boxes and cans I bring home from the grocery store, though I do think about this can of peas all the time. My partner, on the other hand, reads everything closely. If there’s anything on the dining table while we’re having a meal — a flier, the wrapper around takeout chopsticks — he’ll reflexively read it. So it did not surprise me at all when he showed me the text on our toothpaste tube.

“What does this even mean?” he asked with incredulity, pointing at a phrase highlighted in its own little white box: “Protects against areas dentists check most.”

Upon first read, it seemed innocuous: protects! dentists! Alongside it were other reassuring, toothpaste-related words: anticavity, clean mint, pro-health, freshens breath. My brain was reassured that yes, here is toothpaste that does all the normal toothpaste stuff. But then I realized the actual content of the phrase makes no sense. What are the areas dentists check most, anyway? Like… the teeth? The gums? The whole mouth? Whenever I go to the dentist they do check all those things. The gum checking is the worst, because the dentist will rattle off a bunch of numbers to the assistant, which I feel vaguely judged by even though I don’t understand if they’re good or bad.

But I digress. What’s more mysterious than these “areas” is what the toothpaste claims to do for them. How does one protect against areas? I can imagine protecting areas dentists check most; mouth protection seems good. But to protect against areas? This implies there are areas that dentists check which you need protection from. Perhaps the tongue, an area my dentist sometimes checks, is in fact a dangerous area and the toothpaste does something to protect me against it.

We first encountered this toothpaste in April and I have been thinking about it ever since. “Time to protect against areas,” N will sometimes say before brushing his teeth, and though it’s been months, it makes me laugh every time. For a week, I toyed with the idea of doing some investigative toothpaste journalism. Who is the poor copywriter who shat out this terrible copy? Who signs off on toothpaste tube copy, if anyone, and were they just asleep at the wheel that day at work? Does anyone at Crest realize that this sentence makes no sense? For what it’s worth, we bought more of the same toothpaste recently and it had the same text, which suggests it’s probably standard copy, not a one-time error.

In a way, this feels peak 2020s United States: gesture at a nice idea (protects! dentists!), and hope that people don’t look too closely to notice that it has no substance. Meanwhile, no one’s at the helm to make a simple and small correction to an obvious mistake, or, even worse, they don’t think it matters enough to get things right, because who cares?


Letters of Recommendation

  • If you are lucky enough to have a bathtub: sit in the tub for 30 minutes. If you want to be cozier, I got a $40 bath pillow and it was a total game changer.

  • For an incisive perspective on the Asian American experience: read Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings. (If you choose to buy a copy, please try to do so through an independent bookseller.)

  • For an in-your-feelings, watch-by-yourself experience: the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People is on Hulu. The book destroyed me so I shouldn’t be surprised the show did, too. I spent the hour after finishing the series watching interviews with Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones just to keep the feel of their universe alive for a little while longer.

  • If you live near water: night tide pooling! Our friends M and D had been tracking low tides in our area, and invited us to come along for an 8pm adventure. It was a real treat to see geoduck, anemones, snails, and crab. The highlight for me was holding an enormous, slimy moon snail.

  • Rohit, a guy on TikTok who started posting every day about his abstinence from fizzy drinks. He’s up to 110 days now and it’s been lovely over the last few months seeing his posts from time to time, knowing it’s keeping up with his own goals.

  • If you’re an Animal Crossing fan: there are K.K. Slider covers of pretty much anything you can imagine. No Scrubs, September, Africa, you name it.


What else I’ve been writing about

  • Wildfires have become the new normal for west coast summers, and each fire creates new cohorts of survivors experiencing emotional trauma — and the possibility of triggering previous survivors. (Outside)

  • If you’ve been following COVID on Twitter, you’ve probably come across posts from Eric Feigl-Ding, who has gained hundreds of thousands of followers for his startling pandemic tweets. But many COVID experts are concerned those tweets sacrifice accuracy for speed and drama. (Undark)

  • The state of Wyoming stopped contact tracing after cases skyrocketed, but tribes and some counties have continued their own contact tracing programs. (High Country News)

  • Many details of the COVID vaccine rollout have been left up to states, so the timing of who is eligible for vaccines and what process will be used to verify eligibility will be highly variable. I wrote this not quite a month ago and we’re already starting to see each state’s plan: Washington will be determining vaccine eligibility based on the honor system, while Florida is using Eventbrite, of all things, to release vaccination slots. (Slate)


Happy 2021, friends, and thanks for reading! And if you work at Crest and/or can shed any light on protecting against areas, please get in touch.