Peter S. Ungar’s Teeth: A Very Short Introduction
Do you think about your teeth often? Most of us only think about our teeth when there’s something wrong with them. At Delta Dental, we think teeth deserve a bit more attention. That’s why we’re sharing an excerpt from a book that explores all of the fascinating things about teeth. Here’s a brief introduction:
‘Whoa, look at those teeth, they’re so cool!’ I enjoy walking through the exhibits at natural history museums when I visit for research. This time it was the Smithsonian. The little girl, six or seven, dragged her younger brother by the arm across a crowded hall to see the skull of Dimetrodon, a mammal-like reptile that lived nearly 300 million years ago. Its teeth are cool—but so are yours. Think about it. Your teeth are the product of half a billion years of evolution. They provide fuel for the body by breaking apart other living things; and they do it again and again over a lifetime without themselves being broken in the process. It’s like a perpetual death match in the mouth, with plants and animals developing tough or hard tissues for protection, and teeth evolving ways to sharpen or strengthen themselves to overcome those defences.
Why are we drawn to teeth in the halls of natural history museums and in picture books of fossil species? There’s something visceral about them. Perhaps it’s because our early ancestors spent so much time running away from teeth. Or maybe it’s because they define us. As George Cuvier, the great 19th-century naturalist is often quoted to have said, ‘Show me your teeth, I will tell you who you are.’ We know intuitively something about an animal by looking at its mouth. Think of Tyrannosaurus rex, with its long, sharp teeth for killing prey and ripping flesh. A little closer to home, a recent survey of nearly 5,500 American singles by the online dating service Match.com found teeth to be the #1 attribute both men and women use to judge potential partners. Yes, teeth matter.
So, what do you think? We think teeth are pretty cool, but we’re a bit biased.
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