Going to the dentist may be a relatively modern phenomenon, but did you know that people have been using toothpaste since about 500 B.C.? Back then, the ancient Greeks would use a mixture that contained iron rust and coral powder to clean their teeth. Toothbrushes, meanwhile, were bunches of tree twigs that people would chew on.
Luckily, dental care has advanced since then, and we’ve now got many different tools at our disposal to help us take care of our teeth. You rely on your teeth daily to help you eat. Knowing a little more about them and how your behaviors affect your dental health can help you take better care, and keep you smiling long into the future.
Your teeth are like your fingerprint: They’re uniquely yours. This is why dental records are sometimes used to identify human remains. Even identical twins don’t have identical teeth. Bonus fact: Your tongue also has a unique “tongue print.”
About a third of each tooth is underneath your gums. This is why keeping your gums healthy is as important as making sure your teeth are well cared for. Your gums should always be pink in color, and firm.
Working from your front teeth to the back of your mouth, you have eight incisors (your front teeth), four canine teeth, eight premolars, and 12 molars.
The enamel is the outermost layer of your teeth. Like a hard shell, its primary purpose is to protect the rest of the tooth. The enamel is mostly made of calcium and phosphate, like your bones, but is stronger because of the specific proteins and crystallites that form it.
Even though it’s there to protect your teeth, the enamel can still chip or crack, and it isn’t safe from decay. Sugars and acids, like those found in soft drinks, interact with bacteria in your mouth and attack your enamel, which marks the start of tooth decay. Soft drinks are particularly damaging when you drink them often, or slowly throughout the day.
That’s not just a coffee stain. Enamel is partly responsible for your teeth’s white appearance, and when it decays, your teeth may start to appear yellow. Decaying enamel could also be to blame for any pain you feel.
Dentin is the layer that lies beneath the enamel, and it’s also harder than your bones. Dentin is made up of small channels and passageways that transmit nerve signals and nutrition through the tooth. There are three types of dentin: primary, secondary, and reparative. While the enamel is basically static, dentin continues to grow and change throughout your life.
Plaque contains millions of bacteria, made up of 200 to 300 different species. The main culprit for poor tooth health is Streptococcus mutans, which converts sugar and other carbohydrates into the acids which eat away at your teeth.
White and sticky, it’s constantly growing. If you don’t remove it regularly by brushing and flossing, it can cause tooth decay. Without removal, plaque hardens and develops into tartar. So, brush and floss at least twice daily and see your dentist for regular cleanings.
Your body produces about a quart of saliva every day, which comes out to about 10,000 gallons over a lifetime. Saliva plays many important roles in your overall health. For example, it makes food easier to swallow and contains enzymes to jumpstart digestion. When it comes to your teeth, saliva washes away lingering food particles, and contains calcium and phosphate, which can neutralize the acids in plaque that cause damage and decay.
- Prior to 1960, it was a common belief that toothaches were caused by a “tooth worm” that lived in your gums. If the pain subsided, it was because the worm was simply resting.