1. Trendy teeth
Most civilisations in the world have practiced intentional dental modification at some point. These modifications range from the ablation of teeth, as practiced by hunter-gatherers in Africa at least 15,000 years ago, to jewels being implanted into teeth among the ancient Mayan communities, and inhabitants of western Micronesia slicing grooves into their teeth.
2. Aristotle gets it wrong
Yes, you heard that right. The great Greek philosopher and scientist didn’t know absolutely everything. In this case, he wrongly believed that men and women have a different number of teeth. We actually have 32 each, with 1-16 located in the top row, and 17-32 in the bottom.
3. Aristotle gets it right
Admittedly, this is a much more common phrase, and Aristotle did in fact get a lot right about teeth. He astutely noted in around 350 BC that, “Teeth have one invariable office, namely the reduction of food.” The food that mammals eat and have eaten has a direct relation to how their teeth develop. Given that some mammals can take up to 10,000 bites a day, it’s important to have the right tools. An example of teeth being suited to the job are those of cats and dogs: cats have bigger, stronger canines for deep, prolonged killing bites while holding struggling prey, whereas dogs have relatively larger incisors used to inflict shallow, slashing wounds and to gather other foods.
4. It’s a knock-out
Dental surgery was one of the first uses for general anaesthesia in the 1840s, and it was in fact a dentist who provided the first public demonstration of anaesthesia being used in surgery. William Morton successfully demonstrated the use of ether for the removal of a tumour from a young man’s neck in Boston, Massachusetts. It was used widely across the world until the 1970s and 80s, when concern was raised over the number of healthy patients dying as a result of dental anaesthesia. As a result, general anaesthesia use for dental surgery was discouraged, and on 31 December 2001, the administration of general anaesthesia in dental surgeries in the UK was prohibited.
5. Charms and tooth-bones
In England, between the 15th and the 20th century, it was very important that a child’s tooth was disposed of as quickly as possible after it fell out. The traditional explanation was that if the tooth was simply discarded with other rubbish, a dog or pig might gnaw it, causing the child’s new tooth to be misshapen, like the animal’s.
A tried and tested method for disposing of teeth, which was used until the mid-20th century, involved the tooth being rubbed in salt and thrown onto a fire. It was quite popular to recite a charm while doing this: