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What do Mao Zedong and Howard Hughes have in common? In maturity, especially later in life, neither one brushed his teeth. Ever.

Hughes—inventor of one of the largest planes in history, owner of Trans-World Airlines, blockbusting director, millionaire (for a while the world’s wealthiest man), and aviation pioneer (a transcontinental airspeed record-holder)—was also a lifelong obsessive-compulsive germaphobe. (…) His aversion to the toothbrush stemmed from its ability to carry invisible contaminants.

The mastermind of China’s Communist revolution and the author of the “Little Red Book,” on the other hand, simply preferred not to brush. Instead, Chairman Mao rubbed his teeth with green tea leaves, giving them a well-documented jade tinge. “A tiger,” he reasoned, “never brushes his teeth.”

The two men may have exposed themselves to health and hygiene problems, but they also—no doubt unintentionally—avoided injury. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 2,953 Americans were treated in 2007 for toothbrush-related injuries. The odds a person will visit an emergency department due to an accident involving a toothbrush in a year are 1 in 99,340, making a toothbrush slightly more dangerous on average than a garage door.

{ Book of Odds | Continue reading }

related { Wall Street Journal on the Book of Odds }