Despite their persistent use, teeth are nowhere near being the body’s strongest bone. That honour goes to the leg bones, namely the femur, tibia and fibula. In fact, the lasting capability of teeth (with a brittleness ‘comparable to glass’) has long been a mystery within the scientific community. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal revealed that human teeth possess a basket-weave-like microstructure that kept any enamel cracks from immediately shattering smiles.
Teeth may be built to eat and built to last, but are they built for anything else? Dentists say a resounding no.
From ripping tags to opening bags, from a bottle opener to a rose holder, teeth assist people in accomplishing far more than the first stage of digestion. Some people use their teeth as a third hand, a ripping tool or a party trick. All of them contribute to undoing nature’s intricate ‘basket weave’.
Dr. Sorin Teich, a professor from Case Western Reserve University, says individuals who habitually use their teeth as tools are more prone to damage compared to those who do so as a one-off measure, or never at all. ‘They’re doing this because it’s available, it’s always there. They get used to that, and it works for them’, he says. ‘It almost becomes something that’s second nature’.
Professionals from Harley Street Dental Clinic explain that broken ‘tools’ are a product of direction rather than composition. They say that despite their capability to withstand more than enough bite force, lateral forces severely undercut this strength. The ‘basket-weave’ best sustains vertical forces, as is the direction of the human bite.
Constant misuse of one’s teeth not only causes structural issues. From breaking nutshells to cutting threads, unintended functions can take a toll on a tooth’s appearance. Dr. Deani Deskins-Knebel, dental director of the Columbus Neighbourhood Health Centre, mentions how abfractions and abrasions are the unsightly price to pay in exchange for a momentary convenience.
Teeth may be among the most versatile parts of the human body, but this does not necessarily mean they are designed to be so.