7 bizarre facts you didn't know about teeth

1. National Toothache Day is on 9 February

A strange thing to celebrate perhaps - but, in reality, the day is simply aimed at raising awareness of dental health and how best to protect it and prevent toothache. Pain generating from a tooth or multiple teeth can make us thoroughly miserable, cause difficultly whilst eating, and may even prevent us getting a good night's sleep or impair our ability to talk. Obviously, accidents do happen so if a tooth is broken or chipped or if you have an infection, visit your dentist as soon as you can. Seek professional advice as soon as your toothache develops - some over-the-counter treatments work but, if the pain persists, your dental practice should be your first port of call!

A good dental care regime at home and regular visits to your dental practice are the essential steps for preventing toothache. Avoiding sugary foods and acidic drinks and daily brushing and flossing as recommended are also important. Invest in a good-quality toothbrush (electric toothbrushes are recommended), some fluoridated toothpaste and tools to clean between the teeth, such as floss or interdental brushes. Dental therapist Anne Connor reveals: 'It's very important to remove bacteria from all tooth surfaces, so as long as patients are using something it all helps, even when a gentleman tells me he uses his toenail interdentally! Obviously, the usual tools for the job are floss and interdental brushes. And make sure you book a regular appointment to see a dental hygienist or therapist, too, to get a professional clean.'

Here, Anne Connor shares some other little-known facts about teeth…

2. Tooth enamel hardest substance in human body

Enamel is the hard, protective coating of the tooth, which protects the sensitive dentine underneath. But, be warned, don't take it for granted! It covers the outer layer of each tooth, is the most visible part of the tooth and is made up mostly of minerals. Tooth decay is the destruction of this tooth enamel. Some acidic foods and fizzy drinks can lead to erosion of tooth enamel - erosion is the loss of tooth enamel caused by continual acid attack. When the enamel is worn away, the dentine underneath is exposed, which may lead to toothache, pain and sensitivity. So, take a good look at your diet and find ways in which you can reduce the amount of acidic foods and drinks such as carbonated drinks and fruit juices and frequency of sugar consumption and erosive foods and drinks.

3. A dentist invented the electric chair

Even these days, dentists get a bad press - but we have certainly moved on since the days of this fella. Dentist Alfred P Southwick watched a drunken man accidentally shock himself to death in 1881, which inspired him to come up with a new method for executing people on death row - the electric chair. Dr Southwick (a former steam-boat engineer, dentist and dental educator) happened to witness the intoxicated man die after he inadvertently touched a live generator terminal. Southwick felt that electrocution was, seemingly, a quick and painless method of execution and offered a more humane alternative to hanging or the guillotine!

4. A toothbrush left uncovered in a bathroom is easily contaminated

It's important to keep toothbrushes or electric toothbrush heads clean and stored away from the millions of bacteria that lurk in a bathroom. According to scientists at the University of Manchester, your toothbrush is home to more than 100 million bacteria including E. coli and staphylococci (Staph) bacteria. But don't fret, your mouth is home to bacteria, too, and your toothbrush probably won't make you ill! Even plaque is a type of bacterium. However, I would advise that you keep your toothbrush stored away from the lavatory - or close the lid to stop any risk of contamination when flushing. If you have a family toothbrush cup or holder, make sure you give it a thorough clean regularly and rinse brushes each time they are used, allowing them to dry naturally. Never share toothbrushes - even when stored alongside each other they can share germs! And, finally, change your toothbrush or toothbrush head every three months or after an illness.

5. Teeth are a valuable source of stem cells

Dental stem cells are the most convenient method of accessing abundant and powerful stem cells in the body. There are so many conditions for which there is no effective treatment and stem cells have the potential to treat many of them. Stem cells in the human body age over time and their regenerative abilities slow down later in life and so, the earlier in life your family's stem cells are secured, the more valuable they will be when they are needed most. This has led to the growth of commercial stem cell banks - places where parents may store the baby teeth of their offspring should they ever be needed. Scientists have also suggested that one day we may even be able to re-attach teeth by using stem cells

6. Sharks get 40 sets of teeth in their lifetime

The average shark has 40-45 teeth and can have up to seven rows of replacement teeth. Sharks lose a lot of teeth but do grow them back rather quickly, which means they can chomp their way through more than 30,000 teeth in a lifetime. Now, that's a lot of cleaning! Additionally, shark teeth are known for their symbolic meaning of bravery, strength, power and protection - the ancient Hawaiians wore shark tooth necklaces to ward off danger and protect them while out in the sea.

7. Dentures were once made from dead soldiers' teeth

According to the British Dental Association1, replacement teeth were originally made from ivory but these unnatural looking alternatives were soon ditched for dentures made with an ivory base and then set with real human teeth - subsequently becoming known as Waterloo teeth as some were scavenged from dead soldiers on battlefields. Other teeth were taken from dug-up corpses by people eager to sell them on. Although this practice was more common in the earlier 19th century, Waterloo teeth were still appearing in dental supply catalogues of the 1860s, shipped across in barrels from the American Civil War.

Reference

1. www.bda.org/museum/collections/teeth-and-dentures/waterloo-teeth