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Can You Handle The Tooth? 10 Things You Didn't Know About Teeth

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The average adult has 28 to 32 teeth, depending on their "wise" set of third molars or lack thereof. But besides the importance of brushing and flossing, how well do you know your chompers? From LED braces to pearly whites in hard-to-reach places, we bring you the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth.

1. Some babies are born with teeth.

About one in every 2000 babies is born with natal teeth, so sometimes baby's first dentist appointment is only a few days after birth. Natal teeth usually grow on the bottom gums and tend to have weak roots; they're often removed to prevent problems with breastfeeding and accidental swallowing. Being born with teeth can be a symptom of certain medical conditions, and ancient physiognomy associated it with evil—but it's usually harmless. Advice columnist twin sisters Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren were both born with teeth. So were Napoleon and Julius Caesar. 

2. Not everyone loses their baby teeth.

Losing baby teeth is a rite of passage, not to mention a small source of income for most kids. By age 3, the average child has a full set of 20 temporary teeth. These little chiclets loosen and eventually fall out as the permanent teeth below start to erupt. Children typically start losing teeth around 5 or 6 and finish in their early teens. But if a person doesn't have a replacement permanent tooth, that baby tooth will stay put.

3. And some people can't stop losing teeth!

Mo' molars, mo' problems? Depends who you ask. People with hyperdontia have extra, or super-numerary, teeth. Most of these teeth remain hidden below the gumline, but occasionally they'll erupt and crowd other teeth. If extra teeth crash a mouth party, a dentist can remove them, or an orthodontist can make bank straightening all of them out. Very rarely, a person will lose a "permanent" set of teeth at an older age, only to have a no-for-real-now set grow back in. The rest of us have to get dentures.

4. And you might as well do something with those teeth, right?


Image via Scrap&Smith's Etsy Store

What exactly is the Tooth Fairy supposed to do with the teeth she collects? If she's crafty, she might want to look into selling human tooth art on Etsy. Yep, there's apparently a small—and more than a little creepy—demand for artsy molars and incisors. Exhibit A: These double rings made of molars. Exhibit B: This quirky pendant that, dare we say, looks really cute. But these molar cuff links? Designer imposters. Even actress Scarlett Johansson made a golden necklace out of one of her extracted wisdom teeth and gave it to her ex-husband Ryan Reynolds. Do you think she got it back after they split?

5. Tumors can grow teeth, too.

No one wants to deal with an abnormal growth, but teratomas are especially icky. The germ cell tumors can contain several types of tissues and are usually found in the ovaries, testes, and near the tailbone. Some of them even contain teeth. And hair. And occasionally eyes, hands, and other limbs! Fortunately, many teratomas are benign and can be surgically removed. If you've got one, here's hoping the Tooth Fairy sends you a get well card.

6. But a tooth in your eye doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Ever hear the expression "I'd give my eye-teeth"? One woman literally gave her eye a tooth to restore her vision. In 2000, Sharon Thornton lost her vision to Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a condition that destroys the cells on the eye’s surface. Nine years later, the 60-year-old woman elected to try an unusual surgery. One of her canines was removed, so her cheek and dental tissue could be implanted in her left eye, replacing the damaged cornea. Within a day, the blind woman had regained 20/70 vision and the hope of improved sight in the future.

7. Braces are cooler than ever before.

Back in ye olde days of orthodontia, the most creative thing the metal-mouthed could do with their braces was choose rubber band color. Today's options include Invisalign or lingual braces hidden along the inside of your teeth. Or you can modernize traditional braces with glow-in-the-dark or LED technology. In the former option, fluorescent rubber bands or brackets glow when light-activated. (Orthodontists suggest shining a flashlight on the braces for a quick demonstration.) The Japanese clothing store Laforet Harajuku invented LED braces for a January 2011 ad campaign. Switched on by smiling wide, these multicolored flashing lights don't actually straighten teeth. They will, however, make you the coolest kid at a rave.

8. But not all cultures consider straight teeth the beauty ideal.

Straight white teeth might seem universally appealing, but one country's snaggletooth is another country's sex appeal. (How do you think Austin Powers got so much action?) In Japan, crooked teeth called yaeba are so coveted that some women with perfect teeth get crooked veneers to enhance their smiles. They figure that crowded chompers make them look younger and more adorable, which makes sense. American parents could save lots of money if the trend catches on here...

9. Humans will evolve past wisdom teeth.

A third set of molars helped our larger-jawed ancestors grind up roots, nuts, and leaves. But nowadays, 35% of people are born without wisdom teeth. Most of the rest of us are encouraged to get ours removed—our mouths are too small; our dentistry to pricey to screw up. When our bodies no longer need an organ or part, it becomes vestigial and eventually disappears. According to scientists, future generations will lack appendices, wisdom teeth, and maybe even little toes.

10. Candy's better for your teeth than raisins.


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Halloween's coming up, so pay attention: Not all sweets are equally bad for your teeth. In fact, you might be surprised which treats are more likely to cause cavities. Sugar from all the foods we eat feeds bacteria that create acid and erode tooth enamel. With enough erosion over time, a tooth becomes the Grand Cavity Canyon. So how do you have your snacks and keep the teeth to eat them, too? Ditch foods that get stuck in your teeth (breads, chips, and fruit snacks) for those that dissolve quickly (chocolate, caramels, and jelly beans). It's also better to snack all at once than to munch and feed bacteria throughout the day. Happy trick or treating!

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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