All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

teeth have a distinctive anatomy and physiology that is different to the biology of the skeleton. The great eighteenth-century zoologist and anatomist Baron Georges Cuvier was once quoted as saying, ‘show me your teeth and I will tell you who you are.’

Our teeth tell us something about our ancestry, ethnic background, and age, our environment and our health. Teeth are one of the hardest tissues in our body and a valuable source of evidence in understanding the biology of ancient communities throughout the evolution of mankind. Teeth can be used as part of our repertoire of behaviour, by showing or ‘baring’ one's teeth as a means of aggression, or by adding them to a perfect smile. The movement of teeth during eating can stimulate reflex salivation or can limit damage if excessive force is applied. Teeth can therefore serve a variety of functions in our lives from the time that the first deciduous (milk or primary) teeth appear, a process commonly known as teething. By the age of 3 the deciduous teeth are fully formed and by the age of 6 the first permanent teeth appear by displacing their predecessors. A complete permanent dentition (set of teeth) is present at or around the age of 18 years. In the complete deciduous dentition there are 20 teeth, 10 in each jaw. In the complete permanent dentition there are 32 teeth, 16 in each jaw. There are different classes of teeth each with a particular role in eating; incisors (Latin dentes incisivi; cutting teeth), canines (Latin dentes canini; dog teeth), premolars, and molars (Latin dentes molars; grinding teeth).

Each tooth is divided into a crown that projects into the mouth and a root that is embedded into the jaws. The crown is coated with heavily mineralized enamel and the root with a thin layer of cement. The visible crown surface is usually smooth, translucent, and white but may show defects in thickness, mineralization, and colour. During development these defects can be attributed to an interruption of the normal growth processes due to malnutrition or diseases (such as rickets and measles) or to high levels of fluoride in drinking water. Betel nut chewing and smoking can also lead to discolouration.

The bulk of the tooth consists of the bony substance dentine, surrounding the soft inner pulp that contains blood vessels and nerves. In the crown, the pulp has small conical extensions (pulp horns) into the cusps of the tooth, and in the root it extends along one or more canals to the tooth apex, where the nerves and blood vessels enter. The density of nerve fibres in dental pulp is very high; in the mid crown of the average tooth there may be as many as 3000 axon branches with approximately 2000 nerve endings per mm2, the highest density in the body. The role these nerve fibres play in the normal sensations from teeth has been a point of conjecture for dentists for over a century, but whatever the stimulus it invariably leads to the pain usually described as toothache which, according to Robert Burns was, ‘the hell o' a' disease’.

Sufferers are well aware that a tooth can become acutely sensitive. Yet there are no nerve endings on the exposed surface. The mystery of the process that activates the nerve endings inside the teeth has only recently been solved. The dentine contains a honeycomb of dentinal tubules that radiate out from the pulp chamber, tapering along their length and increasing in spacing. At the pulp end of dentinal tubules is a layer of cells called odontoblasts. These cells secrete the initial predentine matrix and mineralize it to produce mature dentine. At the dentinal surface of each odontoblast is a process arising from the cell, which tapers as it penetrates up to half the thickness of the dentine. Some of the dentinal tubules containing odontoblast processes also have nerve fibres and most, if not all, also contain dentinal fluid that is formed from the blood capillaries in the pulp. Under normal circumstances the whole system is in equilibrium, with little movement of dentinal fluid, and the tooth is relatively insensitive. Only when the dentinal tubules are open to the atmosphere through damage, disease such as caries, or wear of the enamel (through the excessive use of a toothbrush or acidic drinks) can the dentinal fluid flow out through the tubules into the mouth (see figure of exposed dentine, showing movement of dentinal fluid). Despite the lack of nerve endings at the exposed surface, the area is now acutely sensitive to thermal, mechanical, and osmotic stimuli. An explanation for this apparent paradox involves the nerve fibres at the pulpal end of the dentinal tubules, and the dentinal fluid, which forms a hydraulic bridge. Most investigators now agree that the movement of fluid due to changes in pressure or in surface tension at the open end of exposed dentinal tubules is transferred through the odontoblast process to nerve endings at the base of the tubules. The dentinal fluid in the tubules can now move when a stimulus is applied, and it is this movement that is picked up by the nerve endings — the sensory receptors. All manner of stimuli would then cause fluid movement; temperature — heat greater than 45°C, cold less than 27°C; mechanical — use of a dental bur, a probe, or a toothbrush; removal of fluid by an air stream, absorbent materials, or hyperosmotic solutions such as strong sugar solutions. Blocking the dentinal tubules using dental resins restores the equilibrium and the tooth will once again become relatively insensitive. Thus the hydraulic or hydrodynamic theory of movement of fluid through the dentinal tubules goes some way to explaining this exquisitely sensitive and unique system of receptors that occasionally gives rise to the ‘sensitivity’ of teeth.

Duncan Banks


Bradley, R. M. (1995). Essentials of oral physiology. Mosby, St Louis.

See also dentistry.
views updated

390. Teeth

See also 14. ANATOMY ; 51. BODY, HUMAN .

the condition of having teeth without roots attached to the alveolar ridge of the jaws, as in certain animals. acrodont, adj.
the habit of purposelessly grinding ones teeth, especially during sleep. Also called bruxomania .
the condition of being decayed or carious, especially with regard to teeth.
the shedding of teeth.
the production or cutting of teeth; teething. Also called odontogeny .
endodontics, endodontia
the branch of dentistry concerned with diseases of the dental pulp and removal of the dental pulp, the nerve and other tissue of the pulp cavity; root canal therapy. Also endodontology. endodontist , n.
the branch of dentistry concerned with the extraction of teeth. exodontist, n.
a condition of the teeth in which they become loose, especially the molars.
dentition. odontogenic, adj.
a treatise describing or giving the history of teeth. odontographic, adj.
1. the science that studies teeth and their surrounding tissues, especially the prevention and cure of their diseases.
2. dentistry. Also called dentology . odontologist , n. odontological , adj.
an abnormal fear of teeth, especially of animal teeth.
orthodontics, orthodontia
the branch of dentistry that studies the prevention and correction of irregular teeth. orthodontist , n. orthodontic, adj.
periodontics, periodontia
the branch of dentistry that studies and treats disease of the bone, connecting tissue, and gum surrounding a tooth. periodontist, n. periodontic, adj.
prophylactodontics, prophylactodontia
preventive dentistry. prophylactodontist, n. prophylactodontic, adj.
the branch of dentistry concerned with the replacement of missing teeth with dentures, bridges, etc. prosthodontist , n.
ulatrophia, ulatrophy
a shrinking or wasting away of the gums.
views updated

teeth, hard, calcified structures embedded in the bone of the jaws of vertebrates that perform the primary function of mastication. Humans and most other mammals have a temporary set of teeth, the deciduous, or milk, teeth; in humans, they usually erupt between the 6th and 24th months. These number 20 in all: 2 central incisors, 2 lateral incisors, 2 canines, and 4 premolars in each jaw. At about six years of age, the preliminary teeth begin to be shed as the permanent set replaces them. The last of the permanent teeth (wisdom teeth) may not appear until the 25th year, and in some persons do not erupt at all. The permanent teeth generally number 32 in all: 4 incisors, 2 canines, 4 bicuspids, and 4 (or 6, if wisdom teeth develop) molars in each jaw. Human canines are the smallest found in any mammal.

Among all mammals, the tooth consists of a crown, the portion visible in the mouth, and one or more roots embedded in a gum socket. The portion of the gum surrounding the root, known as the periodontal membrane, cushions the tooth in its bony socket. The jawbone serves as a firm anchor for the root. The center of the crown is filled with soft, pulpy tissue containing blood vessels and nerves; this tissue extends to the tip of the root by means of a canal. Surrounding the pulp and making up the greater bulk of the tooth is a hard, bony substance, dentin. The root portion has an overlayer of cementum, while the crown portion has an additional layer of enamel, the hardest substance in the body. Most nonmammalian vertebrates do not have the outer layer of enamel on their teeth, but instead have a substance known as vitrodentine, similar to dentine, though much harder.

Proper diet is necessary for the development and maintenance of sound teeth, especially sufficient calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins D and C. The most common disorder that affects the teeth is dental caries (tooth decay). A widely accepted explanation of the process of tooth decay is that salivary bacteria convert carbohydrate particles in the mouth into lactic acid, which attacks the enamel, dentin, and, if left untreated, the pulp of the teeth. Regular cleansing and semiannual dental examinations (see dentistry) are important in preventing dental caries and gum disorders. Fluoridation of public water supplies and use of fluoride toothpastes also help prevent caries. In the study of fossil remains done in paleontology and physical anthropology, teeth are the most frequently found remains, a testament to their high mineral content and resistance to deterioration over time. See dentition.

See P. S. Ungar, Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity (2010).

views updated

Teeth ★★½ 2007 (R)

A darkly comic horror take on vagina dentate. Good girl Dawn (Weixler) preaches abstinence to her classmates in her little town next to a nuclear power plant, but when her boy-friend (Appleman) decides he's going to lose his virginity no matter what, she discovers that something strange is going on down there, and it's chomping off anything that tries to get inside. Weixler's Sun-dance-winning performance stands out in this biting satire whose main joke too soon runs its course, as Dawn leaves a trail of severed male body parts in her wake. 88m/ C DVD . US Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Josh Pais, Lenny Von Dohlen, Hale Appleman, Vivienne Benesch; D: Mitchell Lichtenstein; W: Mitchell Lichtenstein; C: Wolfgang Held; M: Robert Miller.

views updated


2. See BONE.



views updated
views updated

teeth Hard, bone-like structures embedded in the jaws of vertebrates, used for chewing food, defence, or other purposes. Mammalian teeth have an outer layer of hard enamel. A middle layer consists of dentine, a bone-like substance that is capable of regeneration. The core of a tooth contains pulp, which is softer and has a blood supply and nerves. See also dentition

views updated

teeth / tē[unvoicedth]/ • plural form of tooth.

views updated

teethbeneath, buck teeth, Hadith, heath, Keith, neath, Reith, sheath, teeth, underneath, Westmeath, wreath •eye teeth • dog-teeth

views updated

teeth (teeth) pl. n. see tooth.