Fascinating Facts About Teeth


Aug 13, 2014 by British Blog

What springs to mind when an individual mentions his or her teeth? Dentists? Scary drills and fillings? Shiny-toothed film stars with unnaturally white gnashers? Well, despite these slightly alarming associations, scientists working in various disciplines seem to be finding teeth increasingly interesting. To find out why, read on.

Accidental tooth care

The purple nutsedge plant, which is widely viewed as a weed and as a generally bad thing, has recently been linked with dental health. Two thousand years ago, people in Sudan ate this weed. Examination of the graves of Sudanese that were very old when they died has revealed that less than 1% of the population had dental decay, compared with around 33% of the UK's current adult population, and it has been suggested that this is because purple nutsedge can halt the growth of the oral bacteria involved in human tooth decay. 

Stem cells

Stem cells, sometimes called 'mother cells', are cells that have the potential to mature into another of the various types of cell needed by the human body. As if that was not handy enough, they can also renew themselves, all the time retaining the ability to become another type of cell. Therefore, they are crucial to growth and repair in humans.

Scientists have known for a while that the pulp in the middle of teeth contains a few of a particular type of stem cell, known as a mesenchymal stem cell, although they were not sure where these cells had come from. Furthermore, they had always believed that once stem cells became new cells (such as neurons and glia, which support neurons and are involved in sensing pain in the mouth) then that was it; they could not change back into stem cells. However, it has recently been discovered that glial cells can travel to the tooth pulp where they turn back into stem cells and then, in time, into tooth cells. This example of a mature cell returning to the stem cell state is widely seen as a key step in science's understanding of the ways in which human cells behave.

Ancient bacteria

Scientists examining 1000-year-old human teeth have discovered an ancient bacterial world, preserved in the plaque upon them. The plan is now to use tooth plaque to find out more about what ancient people ate and the bacteria that affected them.

Sweets for good teeth

Also on the subject of dental bacteria, it turns out that one of the most damaging bacteria to afflict human teeth is a group called mutans streptococci. These bacteria cause dental decay and cavities because they produce lots of acid, which eats away at the enamel on teeth.

Researchers know that another, good, bacterium, Lactobacillus paracasei, is effective in fighting mutans streptococci. These good bacteria are found in fermented milk, and now scientists are exploring the possibility of putting it into confectionery products, in a bid to lessen the amount of bad bacteria in the teeth and thus reduce the risk of tooth decay. If they succeed, it means that dentists the world over might actually be telling their patients to eat sweets, rather than avoid them!

It seems, therefore, that far from being dull, human teeth are actually the gateway to a world of possibilities - whoever would have thought it?