When you think of skeletons or imagine what our ancestors looked like, do you imagine their teeth looking like ours today?
Typically, most of us imagine the teeth of those before us to look like modern day teeth—but in actuality, teeth have evolved over time. If the skeleton in question is more than a few thousand years old, it’s doubtful that their teeth will look the same.
In this fun, animated TEDtalk video, we take a look at how our teeth have evolved over time and how our teeth are a truly impressive component of the human body. Grab the kids, because this video is not only entertaining, it’s also educational!
Every tooth is exceptional
Teeth are a marvel. Over a lifetime, they break up thousands of pounds of tough and hard food while being strong enough to resist breaking themselves.
Teeth begin forming in the womb, and by eight weeks old, tooth buds can be discerned. The development of the teeth within the jaw continues after birth, too. The science of tooth formation is wrapped up in genetics, and much of it is yet to be understood—however, the Oxford Handbook of Integrated Dental Biosciences has some great information at-reach to break it all down.
The structure of the tooth is truly something to marvel at. Their structure includes a mixture of being both hard and tough, two words that seem similar but are actually quite different.
Hardness is the ability to stop a crack from ever starting while toughness is how it protects the crack from spreading. Compare it to glass. Glass is hard, but not “tough” since it can shatter upon the slightest impact. Teeth are able to bridge both “tough” and “hard” since they are composed of two layers: the hard enamel and the tough dentin.
Fun fact: the cellular structure of enamel is what make it so hard. However, if those cells can’t be regenerated. So if they are lost, your enamel will be permanently damaged. The internal layers of the tooth are much more complex, on the other hand, and will continue to emit dentin even if they are damaged.
While we may not think our oral cavity has much in common with that of a lion or other mammals, the truth is that the underlying process of tooth growth is exactly the same.
Take, for example, cows. Since their diet is primarily grass, they have blunt, flat teeth to help gnaw on and grind down their food. In some instances, researches have been able to trace the shape of these modern mammal teeth back to dinosaurs. What started as a single pointed tooth that was well positioned to tear raw meat, our teeth now have several peaks and a flatter platform for crushing grains. The ability of mammals to consume a diverse array of food allows them (and us!) to survive in a wide variety of environments.
Our ability to adapt coupled with nature taking the lead has led to teeth the are perfectly adapted to fit our needs. That’s just one of many reasons why it’s so important to take care of our teeth! Millennia of adaptions has led us to where we are, so let’s not take it for granted!