Tooth Be Told


by Bernie Keating

punching up Wikipedia since 1885

WE HERE AT THE LAB understand that this is a busy time of year. What with "Thanksgiving," "Christmas, "Channukah," "Kwanzaa," "Boxing Day," "Boxing Weekend," "Bingo Month," et. al., we understand people can get caught up in the hustle/bustle of the "holidays" and, in a rush to "get things done," barely have time to misuse quotation marks. 

But did you also know that December is National Read-an-Article-About-Teeth Month? Yes, it most certainly does sound like something we made up to keep you from bolting for the mall. But what of it? Take a moment to learn about "all things teeth," and you can hit the sales when we're done.

First off, let's tackle the entire catalog of dental terms just to get them out of the way. "Teeth" is the wildly popular plural noun for the singular noun "tooth." There. Done. 

Teeth are calcified and whitish (read "yellow") structures found in the jaws of those vertebrates who care enough to floss. Teeth are found less
often in some of the more hillbilly genus of vertebrates.

The primary function of teeth is to break down food until it begs for mercy. Softer foods such as tapioca and your lesser puddings tend to get off scott free.

Certain animals (oh let's just say it — Carnivores) also use teeth for hunting or defensive purposes. This is only natural. If you got caught with a mouth full of gazelle you'd be defensive too. ("This? Oh . . . McDonald's brought back their McGazelle sandwich.")

It is generally known that the shape of an animal's teeth is related to its diet. Consequently, we see that monkeys have banana-shaped teeth. Dogs have bone shaped teeth. And cats have Little Friskies shaped teeth. Anyone buying this? Hands?

In humans, the first set of teeth are called the "baby" or "milk" or "primary" set. Rejected names include "chicklets," "toofies," "gumbusters" and of course "the wtf's." They normally appear at about six months of age or at baby's first barbecue — whichever comes first.

Normal tooth eruption is known as teething although we are first to admit that tooth "eruption" might be overstating it. But seriously, picture it.

Mammals  are considered "diphyodont" (quotation marks optional). Diphyondont means the mammal develops two sets of teeth so said mammal can go from day to evening with a minimum of fuss. Furtherly, when used correctly, "diphyondont" can make you a real killing in Scrabble points.

Some animals are monophyodont and develop only one set of teeth, which frankly we find pretty cavalier. Other animals who have the foresight and pluck to develop many sets of teeth are called polyphyodont (short for polyphy-o-dont-even-go-there).

So! Let us then stroll arm and arm through the toothy world of animals, shall we? Bring a sweater.

Sharks grow a new set of teeth every two weeks to replace worn teeth. Probably because once they've worn them, they wouldn't be caught dead wearing the same set while attending some of the tonier feeding frenzies.

All horses, including the gift variety, have 12 premolars, 12 molars, and 12 incisors for a grand total of 14 teeth. Roughly. A few horses have one to four "wolf teeth". If present the wolf teeth are commonly removed because (a) they interfere with the horse's bit and (b) they spook the other horses.

Well, sure, rodents have teeth. Why? You heard something different?

Elephant tusks are incisors used for digging food up and fighting — although they occasionally manage  to settle their differences like perfect little gentlemen. Some elephant teeth are similar to those in manatees but do NOT mention this to manatees. It really gets their whiskers in a bunch. It is contended that elephants once went through an aquatic phase in their evolution. It's mostly the elephants doing the contending and it's mostly bragging. Another manatee hot button.

At the time of this writing, the manatees have not gotten back to us with any sort of rebuttal.

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