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Once Upon a Tooth

The structure of teeth varies between species. For instance, snails have thousands of radula teeth used to to grind up their food, venomous snakes store poison in their teeth and some whales have hair where their teeth should be.

Human teeth are made up of enamel, dentin and then the pulp. Enamel forms the hardest, most outer part of the tooth; dentin is the middle layer formed of hard tissue and pulp is the inner part of teeth - the section that blood vessels and nerves run through (pictured). An adult should have 32 teeth: 8 incisors, 4 canine teeth, 8 premolars, 8 molars and 4 wisdom teeth.

Each type of tooth has it own functionality with incisors utilised in the biting of food, pronunciation of words and supportive of the lips. Canines are used to cut food and, like incisors, support the lips. Premolar and molar teeth are used to chew food and maintain the height of the face.

Differences in the shape of teeth can be used as indicators of teeth and form a person’s ‘dental identity’. For instance, younger people have longer, more rectangular central incisors than older people; females have rounder lateral incisors than males and canine teeth are thought to indicate personality traits i.e. passive personalities have flattened canines.

Your teeth are linked to different aspects of your life. For instance, teeth grinding (also known as bruxism) is a common symptom of stress and is evident in people with excessive smoking, caffeine intake and alcohol consumption. The continued grinding of teeth can lead to jaw aches, cracked/broken teeth and/or damage to the jaw bone. Teeth are also impacted by the hormones a woman is exposed to during pregnancy with an increased vulnerability to plaque and gum disease.

Aside from the physiological functionality of teeth, there are social cues and assumptions placed on the appearance of teeth i.e. the association between missing teeth and poor oral hygiene and between white ‘Hollywood’ teeth and wealth and good health.

Forensic dentistry (or odontology) has been utilised in criminal and historic investigations. Teeth are one of the hardest and most durable substances present in the human body and are therefore prominent sources of DNA in forensic investigations. In forensic dentistry, creating a profile of a person’s teeth is not as simple as we have stated above but technique such as radiography, photography and DNA extraction have been used in criminal investigations.

It is known that odontogenesis (tooth development) occurs during fetal development, however, research continues to investigate methods of forensic and bioarchaeological dentistry. The investigation into the story of teeth continues.

More behind the story for teeth:

Teeth as a source of DNA for forensic identification of human remains: a review by Higgins D and Austin JJ. Science and Justice: journal of the Forensic Science Society

By Tomi Akingbade, Founder

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