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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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This Just In
Lincoln’s Famous Letter of Condolence to a Grieving Mother Was Likely Penned by His Secretary
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Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Abraham Lincoln was a famously eloquent writer. One of his most renowned compositions is the so-called “Bixby letter,” a short yet poignant missive the president sent a widow in Boston who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. But as Newsweek reports, new research published in the journal Digital Scholarship in the Humanities [PDF] suggests that Lincoln’s private secretary and assistant, John Hay, actually composed the dispatch.

The letter to Lydia Bixby was written in November 1864 at the request of William Shouler, the adjutant general of Massachusetts, and state governor John Albion Andrew. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” it read. “But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.”

Unknown to Lincoln, Bixby had actually only lost two sons in battle; the others had deserted the army, were honorably discharged, or died a prisoner of war. Nevertheless, word of the compassionate presidential gesture spread when the Boston Evening Transcript reprinted a copy of the 139-word letter for all to read.

Nobody quite knows what happened to Bixby’s original letter—some say she was a Confederate sympathizer and immediately burnt it—but for years, scholars debated whether Hay was its true author.

During Hay’s lifetime, the former secretary-turned-statesman had reportedly told several people in confidence that he—not Lincoln—had written the renowned composition, TIME reports. The rumor spread after Hay's death, but some experts interpreted the admission to mean that Hay had transcribed the letter, or had copied it from a draft.

To answer the question once and for all, a team of forensic linguists in England used a text analysis technique called n-gram tracing, which identifies the frequency of linguistic sequences in a short piece of writing to determine its true author. They tested 500 texts by Hay and 500 by Lincoln before analyzing the Bixby letter, the researchers explained in a statement quoted by Newsweek.

“Nearly 90 percent of the time, the method identified Hay as the author of the letter, with the analysis being inconclusive in the rest of the cases,” the linguists concluded.

According to Atlas Obscura, the team plans to present its findings at the International Corpus Linguistics Conference, which will take place at England’s University of Birmingham from Monday, July 24 to Friday, July 28.

[h/t Newsweek]

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science
These Deep-Sea Worms Could Live More Than a Thousand Years

Plunge below the sparkling surface of the Gulf of Mexico, head down into the depths, and there you'll find the ancient ones, growing in clusters of drab tubes like piles of construction equipment. Scientists writing in the journal The Science of Nature report that some of these worms could be more than 1000 years old.

When it comes to marine organisms, the deeper you go, the slower and older life gets. Biologists have found an octopus that guarded her eggs for four and a half years. They've seen clams born during the Ming dynasty and sharks older than the United States. They've seen communities of coral that have been around for millennia.

Previous studies have shown that some species of tube worm can live to be 250 years old. To find out if the same was true for other species—in this case, the Gulf of Mexico's Escarpia laminata—researchers spent years watching them grow. They used a long-lasting dye called Acid Blue to mark six clusters of worms, then let them to go about their wormy business. A year later, they collected all 356 blue-stained tubes and brought them back to the lab to measure their growth.

By calculating the speed of the worms' growth and comparing it to the size of the largest individuals, the scientists could devise a pretty good estimate of the oldest worms' age.

And boy, are they old. The researchers' worm-growth simulation suggested that the most ancient individuals could be more than 9000 years old. This seems incredible, even for tough old tube worms, so the scientists calculated a more conservative maximum age: a mere 1000 years.

A millennium-long lifespan is an extreme and not the average, the paper authors note. "There may indeed be large E. laminata over 1000 years old in nature, but given our research, we are more confident reporting a life span of at least 250 to 300 years," lead author Alanna Durkin of Temple University told New Scientist.

Still, Durkin says, "E. laminata is pushing the bounds of what we thought was possible for longevity."

She's excited by the prospect of finding older creatures yet.

"It's possible that new record-breaking life spans will be discovered in the deep sea,” she says, “since we are finding new species and new habitats almost every time we send down a submersible.”

 

[h/t New Scientist]

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