What You Can Learn From Teeth

What You Can Learn From Teeth

Although the primary function of teeth is to bite and chew on food to make it safe and manageable to swallow, there is much more to teeth. Not only are teeth also a tool for proper speech, but teeth can be used as a research tool as well. This is because an individual’s teeth are almost as unique as a fingerprint. By studying someone’s teeth, you can learn an extensive amount about many things. This applies to fossilized human remains that are thousands of years old, as well as modern-day dental patients. To show you just how fascinating teeth can be, here are some interesting things you can learn from teeth: 

Oral Health Habits

For starters, your dentist can learn about your oral health habits by looking at your teeth. Teeth that have a smooth texture are clean and imply good oral hygiene, while teeth with a rough texture are usually coated in plaque. Additionally teeth that are hard and strong, imply good oral health, while teeth that are fragile, painful, or “sticky” can indicate dental decay. Generally speaking, healthier teeth means good oral hygiene, while problematic teeth can imply poor oral hygiene. 

What People Eat

leafy greens

Teeth can also provide information about a person’s diet. In the case of ancient skeletons, a combination of carbon-14 dating and examination of hardened dental plaque, known as phytolith, found on the tooth can provide information on what plants, animals, or food that person ate. Not only that, but the shape of the jaw can also provide dietary information. For example, early hominids with larger jaws were believed to eat plants, bark, fruits, and grasses because their jaw was bigger and much stronger than the jaws of modern humans. Deeply pitted molar surfaces suggest a diet composed of hard foods, while shearing patterns on molars implied a diet of meat or leaves. 

Dietary habits can also be evaluated in modern day humans. In most cases, healthy teeth reflect a healthy diet. Conversely, teeth that are significantly affected by decay and/or plaque can indicate a diet high in sugars, while eroded teeth can indicate a highly acidic diet. 

What People Do

Archeologists also use teeth to learn more about the lifestyle of their ancient skeletons. The condition of an individual’s teeth can serve as a clue to determine where that individual was in regards to the social hierarchy. Teeth in poor condition suggest malnutrition and a lower class, while teeth in better condition or with dental restorations suggests someone in a higher class. 

Nowadays, certain lifestyle habits can still be determined by evaluating someone’s teeth. The most common lifestyle habit noticed by looking at teeth is whether or not a person smokes. This is because smoking stains the teeth in a very specific way. In addition, your dentist can also tell if you live a stressful lifestyle by looking at the condition of your teeth. Teeth that are excessively worn down can be indicative of teeth grinding and clenching, which is a parafunctional dental behavior brought about by excess stress. 

The Health of Your Bones

Despite the fact that teeth are not bones, they can still help to provide information about the health of bones. For example, if permanent teeth begin to fall out, this suggests that the jawbone has begun deteriorating and is no longer able to properly support the teeth. In some cases, tooth pain can even serve as an early warning of jawbone deterioration. Additionally, people with low bone mass in their jaws can also be dealing with osteoporosis.

Your Mental Health

Teeth can even read your mind. Okay, not really. But teeth can provide some insight into your mental health. One of the most commonly diagnosed  mental health conditions diagnosed by looking at teeth is bulimia. This is because frequent vomiting regularly exposes the tooth enamel to stomach acid, causing the enamel to erode rapidly. Additionally, people who frequently grind their teeth may have anxiety, while people who suddenly fail to properly take care of their teeth may be suffering from depression. 

Your Identity

examining skull using a fake set of teeth as reference

Forensic odontology, also known as forensic dentistry, is a specialized field that focuses on identifying people and solving crimes. In the unfortunate case that someone cannot be identified, their teeth can be used to identify the individual. By evaluating the teeth, forensic scientists can approximate the age, ethnicity, lifestyle, and diet of an individual. Additionally, the presence of certain dental restorations can also make it easier to identify an individual. Bite marks, dental x-rays, and dental impressions can also be used to solve crimes. 

Dr. Sam Sadati wearing black suite portrait

Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry.  He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida.