From growing synthetic teeth to traditions you may not have known about—teeth are as interesting as they are essential. Here are 10 weird facts about teeth
1. The Tooth… Mouse?
Here in North America, the tooth fairy is a longstanding tradition for many families, and one of the many weird facts about teeth. Children who lose their primary teeth eagerly place them under their pillows at night, and fall asleep dreaming of the cash reward they will wake up to in the morning.
However, in other corners of the world like Spain and France, the story goes a little differently. Instead of a magical tooth fairy, some children wait for a sweet little mouse to take their tooth. In Spanish cultures, this critter goes by the name of Ratoncito Perez, Perez the Mouse, and in France, La Bonne Petit Souris, which translates to “the little good mouse.”
Children typically leave their tooth under their pillow for the furry little guy to visit in the night. Like the tooth fairy, Perez swaps out the tooth for a reward, usually money or a gift.
2. Growing Teeth
In China, researchers are hard at work developing technology to grow synthetic teeth with stem cells. And so far, results have produced the beginnings of dental pulp, dentin, and enamel cells.
These results are very exciting but there is still a long way to go until we are able to utilize this medical marvel. For one, the stem cells are sourced from human urine (yes, you read that right) and, while effective for current experiments, it’s not an efficient source nor a sanitary one. Secondly, and perhaps to the horror of our new friend Ratoncito Perez, these experiments to date have only been done on lab mice.
Once, the scientists do manage to successfully grow synthetic teeth, the next step will be to learn how to develop them in such a way that the human mouth fully accepts the synthetic teeth as its own.
3. “Mountain Dew Mouth”—A Rotten Epidemic
In Appalachia, the reigning beverage of choice, Mountain Dew, is wreaking havoc on the dental health of its adoring fans. The damage it is causing is so common and wide-sweeping it has been given a name: Mountain Dew Mouth.
A swirl of unfortunate factors creates a perfect storm for Mountain Dew Mouth to run rampant here. Many of the communities are remote due to their location deep in the mountains, poverty prevents people from getting the dental care they so desperately need, and well water, a common water source, is mistrusted due to pollution concerns.
The beverage tops the charts with an eye-boggling 46g of sugar in just a 12 oz can—that’s roughly 11 teaspoons. For context, according to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugars a person should consume each day is nine teaspoons for men and six for women.
4. Nature’s Toothbrush
Perhaps you already know that humans have been brushing their teeth long before the toothbrush as we know it was first invented in the 1400s. At this time, the Chinese first began the innovative process of fashioning hog hair to bone or bamboo handles. But before this ingenious creation, there was the stick.
People have been using sticks to clean their teeth as far back as 3500 BC, the date of the oldest known oral hygiene artifact. Babylonians rubbed a stick with a frayed end against their teeth to clean away the filmy layer of food debris.
But sticks and twigs aren’t the toothbrushes of the past. Today you can find people still using sticks from cinnamon, neem, and Salvadora trees, among many others. The remarkable thing about these trees is that they happen to have antibacterial properties. Due to this feature, they have been found to be as effective as our own toothbrushing habits.
5. Enamel is irreplaceable.
Enamel is the hardest substance in your body. At its thickest, on the cusp of your teeth, your enamel is 2.5mm and it gradually thins out as it becomes closer to the gumline where it eventually ends.
It may be the hardest substance in our bodies, but it’s also a vulnerable one—especially due to some of our favorite food and beverage choices. Does Mountain Dew ring a bell? Soda, coffee, and sugary treats cause plaque to form and produce acids that leach the minerals from enamel, weakening it and wearing it down. And while there is a lot we can do to protect and strengthen the enamel we have—once it is gone, it is gone. Our body doesn’t produce more.
6. The Incredible Case of the Shrinking Jaw
Many patients question the need to remove wisdom teeth. Our bodies grow and develop them—so shouldn’t they belong there? The truth is yes… and no. It’s a matter of both evolution and the human development of agriculture.
Once upon a time, meat was a lot tougher and required more chewing, as was a lot of other things we ate. We required large, strong jaws to properly break this food down for digestion.
But over time we have changed the way our food is grown, developed, and made. As a result, food has become much easier to chew. And so, due to the decrease in stimulation from chewing, modern day jaws do not develop into the big, strong jaws we once needed.
For many, this means our jaws are much smaller now, and there is no longer room for that final set of back molars to come in—leading to overcrowding when they come in or the inability to come through at all. Overcrowding and impaction can lead to a host of issues, which is why having wisdom teeth removed is often the course of action to maintain optimum oral health for patients.
7. Norway has the world’s largest tooth bank.
That’s right, a tooth bank! In Norway, researchers are storing the primary teeth from 100,000 children to create the world’s largest tooth bank. Using information from these teeth, they will look for links between disease and exposure to environmental pollutants and chemicals in early childhood.
But Norway’s tooth bank is just the biggest of its kind. There are similar facilities across the globe storing children’s primary teeth. The goal is to preserve the stem cells found within them to be utilized later when medical technology has advanced far enough to do so.
The end goal is to harness the remarkable ability stem cells have—they can be “taught” to become any type of healthy cell. It is the hope of the medical community to then introduce these new healthy cells to failing tissues and organs to begin the healing and regeneration of the unhealthy cells.
8. High Fashion Braces
In Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, braces have become a status symbol and a style statement. Typically running around $1,200, orthodontic braces are a luxury for the wealthy. Fashion braces, costing just $100, come in different colors and even shapes such as cat heads, flowers, and Mickey Mouse.
This might sound cute but it has created an illegal and dangerous market of inexperienced installations and DIY kits. In some cases, even toxic materials like lead are being used to supply this emerging metal trend.
9. Forensic Dentists
Much like a fingerprint, no two people have the same bite mark, and dentists can use these to identify someone, as has been famously done in the Ted Bundy case.
Forensic dentists, also called forensic odontologists, use their dental knowledge within the criminal justice system. They are able to identify bodies otherwise unrecognizable, as well as bite marks left behind at a crime scene.
Perhaps one of the first famous cases of teeth being used as an identifier was done by Paul Revere, famous revolutionary and silversmith. Thanks to his trade, and because of the lack of dentists at the time, he provided dental services to his townspeople. During the Revolutionary War, he was able to identify bodies of those who he had performed dental services on.
10. Our teeth tell a story.
Due to their strong enamel layer, teeth outlast all other bodily remains. They are often the only human remains found at archeological dig sites, which is fortunate as they contain a wealth of information about the people to whom they once belonged.
A tooth’s shape, enamel thickness, markings, scarring, wear, and chemical composition all can help us discover details about the humans they were once a part of. From teeth, we can tell what a person ate, where they lived, if they had migrated from another area, and what diseases they suffered from.