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Wednesday 25 November |
Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Wait! How come old skulls always have straight teeth?

Shutterstock/Tarapong Srichaiyos

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 01/22/18

I confess, I’d never thought of it until my son strolled in and read a snippet of this fascinating article from Aeon to me:

Are your lower front teeth crooked or out of line? Do your uppers jut out over your lowers? Nearly all of us have to say ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions, unless we’ve had dental work. It’s as if our teeth are too big to fit properly in our jaws, and there isn’t enough room in the back or front for them all. It just doesn’t make sense that such an otherwise well-designed system would be so ill-fitting.

Other animals tend to have perfectly aligned teeth. Our distant hominin ancestors did too; and so do the few remaining peoples today who live a traditional hunting and gathering lifestyle. I am a dental anthropologist at the University of Arkansas, and I work with the Hadza foragers of Africa’s great rift valley in Tanzania. The first thing you notice when you look into a Hadza mouth is that they’ve got a lot of teeth. Most have 20 back teeth, whereas the rest of us tend to have 16 erupted and working.

Wait, what? There are other people living on earth who have more teeth than most of us? And oh, yeah…we never do see old skulls showing overlapping front teeth in need of braces.

The dental anthropologist Robert Corruccini at Southern Illinois University has seen the effects by comparing urban dwellers and rural peoples in and around the city of Chandigarh in north India – soft breads and mashed lentils on the one hand, coarse millet and tough vegetables on the other.

Read the whole article. The scourge of sleep apnea shows up, too!

I think I probably would side with the writer’s wife, who refused to cut her children’s meat into larger pieces for fear they’d choke.

There’s a lot to think about here — not least that if we suddenly started giving babies tough veggies to eat, and re-evolving our stronger jaws, I’d expect new studies, undertaken by orthodontist associations, quickly explaining why that would be a very bad ideal.

I don’t even want to think about the social and economic fallout between bigger and smaller jawbones.

So much could be affected by what would seem to be a rather small adjustment to our cultural habits.

But this is your mind-blowing factoid for this morning. Something to chew on as you go about your day!

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