Life is a miraculous thing when you think about the cycle of evolution and just how far we’ve come over the course of the centuries. We now know more about life and the theory of evolution than ever before, and what’s especially mind-blowing is that we still have not yet discovered anywhere close to all of the different species currently living on this planet with us.
Compared to such things as the miracle of child birth, it’s probably safe to say we don’t pay too much heed to the slightly more low-profile matter of how our teeth are formed. In reality however, our teeth are extremely important and are certainly about much more than simply chewing our food. Studies have linked poor oral health and hygiene with poor health in general. We understand that if we want our bodies to be healthy and perform for us, we need to look after them. And the same principle applies for our teeth too. Looking after our teeth is vital for numerous reasons, but let’s take a step back a moment… Have you ever stopped to wonder exactly where our teeth come from?
Early stages – If you’ve ever had kids, you’ll know that teething infants can be hard work. When their first teeth begin to become visible, it causes them distress and they tend to cry and scream as a result. You may think then, that teeth are first formed when young babies are a few months old, but that is not the case. Our teeth actually first begin to form roughly two months after conception. Small buds within the lining of the mouth grow inside the jaw and form the very beginning stages of our primary teeth, sometimes known as “baby teeth”. The teeth can become visible as early on as when the child is around two months old and the thing to remember is that oral health must be prioritised as gum issues and teeth issues can still be a factor in young infants. One of the major causes of teeth problems in infants is allowing them to suckle sugary drinks from a bottle.
Adult teeth – Our primary teeth remain firmly in place in the mouth until our permanent (adult) teeth are ready to make an appearance. At around six years of age, our primary teeth begin to get wobbly and loose in preparation for being replaced by adult teeth. Over roughly seven years, 20 primary teeth will be replaced by 28 separate permanent teeth, until roughly the age of 21, when wisdom teeth begin to also make their first appearances, which will increase the number of teeth to 32.
Older teeth – When you think of the years of wear and tear we subject our teeth to, it is not surprising that they can start to suffer as we get older. What is more surprising to note, however, is that our teeth don’t ‘die’. That means there is absolutely nothing to say our teeth will fall out when we reach a certain age or that we will need to wear dentures. Most people assume losing teeth is a natural consequence of the aging process. Not so. There is no set age when our teeth start to fall out. (See the article I wrote earlier: What age do most adults start losing their teeth.)
So if adult teeth don’t fall out from natural causes, what does cause them to fall out? Chewing excessively and consuming foods and drinks which harm the health of our teeth can obviously damage them over time, as can a lack of brushing or a poor oral hygiene routine. This can cause the tooth itself to get diseased, rot and die. More often than not, however, it is damage to the surrounding structures – the gums and the underlying bone that cause teeth to fall out as we get older. Elderly teeth are far more at risk from the effects of gum disease. Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, affects both the gums and the surrounding bone structure that holds the teeth in place. So even if the teeth themselves are healthy, if the surrounding structures become diseased, the tooth can still fall out. So although we very often associate the wearing of dentures with old age, there is in fact no real reason why this should be the case. Look after your teeth, and your gums, and they will be with you for a lifetime.
Dr Peter Galgut runs a private dental practice in North London, specialising in the treatment and prevention of periodontitis and gum disease. In addition he lectures extensively around the world on preventative dentistry and the non-surgical treatment of periodontal disease. For more information on his work or to book an appointment, you can contact him here.