My latest degree is an AAS in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management, so I’ve spent a great deal of time learning about teeth and their anatomy and function. Teeth are a lot more complex than people realize. To quote Hermey the elf in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, “It’s fascinating! You’ve no idea! Molars and bicuspids and incisors…”
Anyway, I could go on for hours, but without using too many technical terms, here are a few cool things about teeth that you may not know:
- Every ridge and crevice in your teeth serves a purpose. When aligned correctly, the ridges help you grind your food so that you can digest it properly, and the crevices help you sluice away debris so that you don’t leave a lot of food behind to create cavities.
- When your teeth grow in your jaw, each tooth starts off as several individual parts, called “lobes” that eventually fuse together. Your molars, toward the back, are made up of 4 or 5 distinct lobes.
- This blows my mind. The shape of your teeth is closely related to the shape of your face. If you have a round face, your teeth tend to be more rounded. If you have a square or rectangular or triangular countenance, your teeth will likely follow suit.
- Women’s gum lines tend to be more curved than men’s.
- The reason whitening toothpaste works is that it contains material that grinds away your tooth’s enamel to expose the dentin underneath, which is whiter. The problem with that is that you can’t get that enamel back, and it’s there for a reason. It’s harder, protects the tooth, and helps prevent cavities. Also, once the pretty white dentin is exposed, it starts becoming less white. It’s a vicious cycle. Personally I will never use toothpaste that has that whitening factor.
- Teeth are subject to something called “mesial drift”, which means they have a tendency to move forward in your mouth if nothing gets in their way. That’s why it’s never good to just pull a tooth and leave nothing in that space, because all the teeth behind it will start marching forward like little soldiers, but unfortunately they won’t always be disciplined enough to stay in a straight line.
- If you have an infection in your tooth, it’s a really bad idea to ignore it, because that infection can travel to your sinuses, your brain, even your heart, via the lymphatic system. It’s really dangerous.
- The minute you remove teeth and don’t replace the gap with something, the bone that supported those teeth begins to resorb, which is basically a fancy word for slowly dissolving. Not a good situation if you want to have tooth implants later. The less bone the dentist has to work with, the less options you will have.
- When your jaw is relaxed, your upper teeth are usually not touching your lower teeth. This is called “freeway space”. I bet you never noticed that. I know I didn’t.
- This isn’t exactly tooth trivia, but I find it interesting. You know the ridges on the roof of your mouth? They’re called rugae, and they’re there to give your tongue traction so you can speak properly. That’s why people with nice slippery retainers talk funny. No traction.
- There are an amazing amount of tooth anomalies out there. Some people’s teeth will come in in the wrong order. Some will develop multiple copies of the same tooth. Some people’s teeth will come out of the roof of their mouth, or erupt sideways. Some people’s tooth roots will twist around each other, or they’ll form additional roots.
- The more mixed your heritage, the more likely you are to have problems with the development of your teeth. For example, if you inherit the large teeth from your mother’s side of the family combined with the small jaw from your father’s side, your teeth are going to be crowded and come in every which way.
- That whole thing about George Washington having wooden teeth? Total myth. Wood swells when it gets wet. He did have several sets of dentures, but they were made of ivory, gold and (gulp) lead. It has also been said that some of his teeth originally belonged to his slaves.
- I can’t stress this enough. If your dentist gives you a retainer, WEAR IT. If your teeth have been moved, it takes a long time for the underlying bone to fill in where your teeth are no longer located. That means if you don’t have a retainer to RETAIN your teeth in their current position, they’ll slide right back to their old location, and all that hard work, discomfort and expense will have been a huge waste of time. One of my biggest regrets is that I stopped wearing my retainer. Also, don’t go bending the wires of your retainer. They’re positioned for very specific reasons.
I’ll leave you with this: Anthropologists have discovered that even the Neanderthals brushed their teeth. They used sticks, which have left behind grooves in the fossil teeth, which is why we know of their habits. So, even cavemen knew the importance of brushing their teeth. I bet they’d have used floss if it were available, too. So you have no excuse.
This actual tooth image is by Joshua Polansky, of Niche Dental Studio. He’s my Dental Lab hero because he stresses the artistry of his work above all else, and I hope to do this, too. He has many other gorgeous images that are available in poster form, and I hope that some day they will adorn the walls of my own dental lab. You can see his art work here.