April 15 – Nothing But The Tooth

Today’s factismal: Children have fewer teeth than adults (in humans, at least).

The human tooth is an amazing thing. Made up of a meaty pulp filled with blood vessels and nerves, it is covered by a thick layer of collagen mixed with minerals known as dentin which is covered by either enamel (on the part that sticks into the mouth) or cementum (on the part that sticks into the jaw). Strong enough to last for sixty years or more (with lots of brushing and very few candy bars), human teeth are surprisingly brittle and can chip or break when the tooth meets an unexpected bit of bone or stone in your food. And, unlike bones, a broken tooth won’t heal; instead if will just sit there with its nerves exposed for all the world to poke.

We have teeth specialized for grinding grains (molars, from the Latin for “millstone”) and for cutting meat (incisors, from the Latin for “cutting”) and for pretending to be a vampire (canines, from the Latin for “sparkly”).  And amazingly, we have different numbers of teeth as we get older. Babies have no teeth (for which their mothers are eternally grateful). But that soon changes; by the age of six, the babies start teething and the parents stop sleeping. These temporary chompers are variously known as “baby teeth” or “milk teeth” or deciduous teeth (because they fall out like the leaves of deciduous trees). And, because children have smaller jaws than adults, there are only twenty deciduous teeth in the typical human where there will be thirty-two adult teeth. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, such as the case of poor Ashik Gavai who suffered from a rare form of cancer that caused him to grow 232 teeth on one side of his mouth!

The fact that children have a different number of teeth than adults is often used by forensic scientists to help identify bodies. By looking at the number and wear on teeth, they can estimate the age of a person. Or at least, they think they can. What they’d really like to do is to know that they can. And that’s where you come in!

Over at the Dental Arcade Game, a forensic pathologist is asking for people under the age off 25 to tell them about their teeth. How many deciduous teeth do you have? How many permanent teeth? When did they show up? By learning this information and linking it to other factors such as ethnicity and income, they hope to be able to give better answers when the police ask for help. To take part, head over to:

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