Professional fighters, newborn babies, and the supporting cast of Deliverance aside, pretty much everyone has a mouthful of teeth. We use our ivories on a daily basis, mashing up food and smiling at friends, but we often take our thirty-two teeth for granted. And that’s just too bad. As it turns out, the human tooth is incredibly strange and is surrounded by weird and wild facts like…
10. Actors’ Teeth
There are quite a few actors out there who lose or gain a few pounds for a role, but that’s nothing compared to the stars who attack their teeth. For the 1999 classic Fight Club, Brad Pitt knew he needed to radically alter his appearance to play anarchist Tyler Durden. After all, if you start up an underground boxing club, you probably won’t end up with a movie star smile. Pitt paid a dentist to chip away at his chompers, giving Durden a much edgier look.
But you don’t need to be an A-lister to go all method on your mouth. For his role as Stu Price in The Hangover, comedian Ed Helms also made a quick trip to the dentist. If you’ve seen the film, you know Stu pulls out his own tooth on a bet. Of course, the actor wasn’t willing to go quite that far in real life. But Helms was a man literally born to play the part of Stu. Helms was born missing a tooth, and at the age of fifteen he filled the gap with an implant. When it came time to star in The Hangover he simply removed the fake. The process was probably a bit painful, as it involved unscrewing the implant and screwing a plug into the gap in his gum. Talk about dedication.
However, the award for hardcore dentistry has to go to Viggo Mortensen. While filming Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Mortensen was busy bashing orcs at the Battle of Helm’s Deep when things got out of hand, and Aragorn accidentally broke his tooth. But instead of stomping off to his trailer, Mortensen wanted to keep filming and insisted that someone glue his tooth back on. Fortunately, director Peter Jackson decided to cut and sent Viggo off to receive proper medical treatment. Still, you have to admire the man’s work ethic.
9. The Norwegian Tooth Bank
There are all kinds of bizarre biological banks, from sperm banks to blood banks to banks full of eyeballs. But in Norway scientists are busy working on an even stranger special facility just for storing milk teeth.
Also known as deciduous teeth, milk teeth are the extras we lose as children, and researchers from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) hope parents will donate these little incisors and bicuspids to their ever-growing tooth bank. Scientists are currently working with 100,000 children in the hopes of building the largest tooth bank in the world.
But why would anyone want milk teeth in the first place? It turns out that these temporary teeth are excellent indicators of what pollutants are in the environment. By studying them, along with blood and urine samples from the parents, MoBa researchers can learn how environmental contaminants affect a child and mother’s health. As of 2013 the bank had 17,000 teeth, all kept in envelopes and locked away in the University of Bergen where no tooth fairy can ever find them.
8. Teeth Tattoos
They might sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, but teeth tattoos are actually quite popular these days. Applied to a cap or crown, these images are permanent and come in all shapes and sizes, from pictures of George Washington to sail boats to phrases like “Bite Me.”
Scientists at Princeton and Tufts are taking teeth tattoos in a completely different direction. Instead of ink, they’re using graphene, and it isn’t for art’s sake. These tattoos are actually electronic sensors, and they’re a bacterium’s worst nightmare. Imprinted on silk, the tattoos are placed onto a tooth, and after water washes the silk away the graphene remains and monitors the mouth for bacteria. Powered by electrodes and an inductive coil, the tattoo uses antimicrobial peptides to latch onto germs. Thanks to the electricity in a bacterium’s cell membrane, a signal is sent to a nearby antenna which scientists use to determine what kind of bacteria is crawling around inside your mouth. You still need to brush, though.
7. The Fake Braces of Asia
In the west, most people think of braces as geeky, ugly and kind of uncomfortable. But beauty is relative, and in Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, braces are considered super cool… and super illegal, thanks to the rich kids.
In cities like Bangkok braces can run up to $1,200, which is a little expensive for most Thai kids. But like everything else owned by the rich and powerful, braces suddenly have an air of wealth and status about them. That’s where fashion braces, or kawat gigi untuk gaya, come in. Running about $100, these braces are sold in markets, beauty salons, and online, and can be customized in all sorts of styles like Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty.
You don’t even need a dentist to wear fashion braces. Do-It-Yourself kits are extremely popular, despite the fact that they’re against the law in Thailand. In 2012, two teenagers developed deadly infections thanks to fashion braces. Authorities were also worried about the amount of lead found in the wires and were concerned kids might choke on loose pieces. Wanting to prevent any further deaths, the Thai government outlawed the practice, threatening to punish producers with up to six months behind bars. But that only gave rise to a thriving black market for braces.
6. Buddha’s Teeth
When most people think about relics, they generally picture Christian artifacts like the Holy Grail, the True Cross and the Shroud of Turin. But Buddhism has its share of holy objects as well — many are from the Buddha’s own body, including quite a few plucked out of his mouth.
If you ever visit Sri Lanka be sure to drop by the city of Kandy, where you’ll find the sage’s left canine on display in the Temple of the Tooth. After the Buddha’s cremation, the tooth became a symbol of power. Whoever owned the canine had the right to rule Sri Lanka, and it was passed down from monarch to monarch. As you might expect, quite a few people squabbled over the tooth, and holy men were forced to hide it from time to time until it finally ended up in Kandy for all the world to see.
On your next trip you can stop by the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Singapore, where you can admire another one of the philosopher’s pearly whites surrounded by prayer rooms and ornate dragons. However, the weirdest of all the Buddha’s teeth is without a doubt the one in Rosemead, California. Worshippers claim the two-inch molar is actually still growing and even possesses miraculous healing powers.
5. John Lennon’s Tooth
Michael Zuk isn’t your average dentist. This Canadian has filled plenty of cavities, but when he isn’t pulling teeth Zuk is busy working on an odd experiment that involves John Lennon’s tooth. How did a dentist from Alberta get his hands on one of Lennon’s pearly whites? In the 1960s, John gave his rotten molar to his housekeeper, a woman named Dot Jartlett. He thought it would be a nice gift for her Beatlemaniacdaughter, and the tooth stayed in the Jartlett family until 2011 when they sold it for over $30,000.
The buyer was Michael Zuk, and he had some very weird plans. He’s used the tooth to draw attention to mouth cancer and even let his sister use a fragment for her sculpture of Lennon’s head. However, his ultimate goal is to clone the rock star. Zuk has allegedly teamed up with a group of scientists who’ve begun sequencing Lennon’s DNA. If all goes according to plan, the singer will make his big comeback in 2040. Only this time Zuk will make sure Lennon stays away from “drugs and cigarettes.”
4. The Incredibly Creepy Jesus Statue
Visit any Catholic church and you’re bound to spot an icon of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Most of these statues are made out of wood or plastic, but if you take a little trip to San Bartolo Cautlalpan, a small town outside Mexico City, you’ll find a figurine that’s a little more lifelike than the rest.
In early 2014 experts from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History were restoring an icon of Christ known as “The Lord of Patience.” This 3’8” wooden statue depicts Jesus moments before his crucifixion, sitting down and staring into the sky. Dating back to the 18th century, this statue was scheduled to undergo restoration, but when researchers started X-raying the piece they noticed something extremely odd about its teeth — they had roots.
Upon closer examination, the researchers found that the Lord of Patience was fully equipped with eight human teeth, and judging by the size they were probably removed from a healthy adult. But why would anyone put real teeth inside a wooden statue? Well, perhaps it was a way of scoring points for the afterlife. Back in the day, believers would offer up hair clippings to make wigs for icons. Researchers believe that a faithful churchgoer probably yanked out a few spare ivories as a way of proving his or her devotion to God. That brings a whole new level to the Biblical “tooth for a tooth” business.
3. The Boy With 232 Teeth
Ashik Gavai was a seventeen-year-old Indian boy in a lot of pain. The right side of his jaw was swelling up like a balloon, and the local doctor didn’t know what to do. Worried the culprit was cancer, his parents took the boy to a team of specialists in Mumbai. Once they started poking around inside his mouth the doctors made an incredible discovery.
Ashik was suffering from a complex composite odontoma. A benign tumor was growing on the teenager’s jaw and essentially turned Ashik’s gums into a tooth factory. Over a seven hour operation, doctors removed 232 “pearl-like” teeth from the boy’s mouth. The four surgeons even discovered a “marble-like” brick and were forced to use a hammer and chisel to break it apart.
Hopefully the doctors removed every rogue tooth in Ashik’s mouth. If not, there’s a chance the odontoma might return. At least there’s a bright side to this macabre little tale — the world record for tooth removal from an odontoma is thirty-seven, so perhaps Ashik might get his name into Guinness.
2. The Man With A Tooth In His Nose
Nose bleeds are pretty common. In fact, three out of five people will suffer from “epistaxis” before they die. But if you’re experiencing nose bleeds once or twice a month, then there might be a problem. A twenty-two-year-old man was getting tired of constantly having to shove cotton balls up his nose, and after having multiple nosebleeds over three years he finally went to see his doctor. What the physician found was kind of horrifying.
There was a tooth growing in the man’s left nostril. It was about one centimeter long and had erupted through the floor of his nasal cavity. Surgeons were able to remove the tooth without any problems, but why was it there in the first place? Well, about 0.15% to 3.9% of people in the world actually have spare teeth. Known as mesiodentes, these extra chompers turn around and grow the wrong way, occasionally popping up inside the nose.
It’s kind of disgusting, but at least it’s understandable. But sometimes our genes get screwed up, and then things get really freaky. Take the case of Doug Pritchard. Back in 1978, Pritchard was a normal 13 year old kid living in North Carolina when his foot started to hurt. He put up with the pain for several weeks, but when he couldn’t take it anymore he went to the doctor… who found a tooth growing in his foot. Sounds like a bad horror movie.
1. Tooth-Eye Surgery
We’ll end with one of the craziest surgeries ever invented by man. In 2009, Martin Jones was a forty-two-year-old man who’d never seen his wife. Years before his wedding day he’d been blinded by an explosion of molten aluminum, but a corneal specialist named Christopher Lui promised to restore his vision with a radical operation known as modified osteo-odonot-keratoprosthesis (MOOKP). And it involved Martin’s front tooth.
After removing one of his canines, doctors drilled a small hole in the tooth and placed a lens inside. Next, they stitched the tooth into his cheek, allowing it to develop vessels and tissue before sticking the canine into Jones’ right eyeball. With the new lens firmly in place Jones could suddenly see everything, including his wife’s face.
Despite its effectiveness, MOOKP isn’t used much in the United States. American surgeons prefer a technique known as Boston Keratoprosthesis, which involves a prosthetic cornea. However, later in 2009 a team of doctors at the University of Miami became the first surgeons to perform the MOOKP operation in the U.S. The patient was a woman named Sharron Thornton who’d lost her vision due to a condition known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Thanks to one of her teeth and some mucus-filled cheek tissue, today Ms. Thornton can see everyone and everything around her.