At Peppersmith we obviously spend a good amount of time thinking about teeth. Even though we all know a lot about the basics, we’re constantly amazed at how weird and wonderful teeth are. In preparation for the time one of us gets a Mastermind call-up, we’ve gathered just a few of the more obscure things that you may not know about teeth.
William the Conqueror used to secure his mail with sealing wax imprinted with his bite mark. His misaligned teeth created a distinctive pattern to show the letters were from him.
In 1816 a tooth said to belong to Sir Isaac Newton was sold in London for £730. The undisclosed buyer had it set into a ring. In 2002 the Guinness World Records classified it as the most valuable tooth (which apparently is something that gets measured) putting its value at £25,000.
Early teeth pioneers
The 19th Century was quite the time for teeth, with Colgate launching the first commercial minty toothpaste in 1873. Toothpaste had been around in some form since as far back as 400BC in Egypt and 500BC in China and India – but it generally included items like soot, honey, ground ox hooves and crushed egg shells. Nice.
As well as developing toothpaste, the Chinese also created the first toothbrush with bristles. The early brushes were made from hogs, badgers and horses.
Teeth around the world
Speaking of China, since 1989 the People’s Republic of China have denoted the 20th September “Love your teeth day”. The day once featured a giant sculpture created from 28,000 teeth.
Sri Lanka hosts Kandy Esala Perahera annually to celebrate one of Buddha’s teeth which is housed in honor inside the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Inside the temple, the tooth is kept inside seven gold caskets, shaped like stupas and covered in gemstones. As part of the 10 day long festival a replica of the tooth is placed within an elaborate casket and carried on the back of a large and elaborately decorated elephant festooned with lights.
Back in the middle ages in Germany, kissing a donkey was thought to be the best way to get rid of toothache. We’re not really sure of the logic.
Despite being known as a nation with pretty white teeth, daily brushing is a fairly recent phenomenon in the US. Soldiers fighting in WW2 were ordered to brush their teeth twice a day and they bought the habit back with them after the war.
White teeth haven’t always been seen as attractive, though. Japan has a rich history of blackening teeth – women to show loyalty to their husbands, samurai warriors to show loyalty to their masters, and Geishas to provide contrast to their makeup.
In 1994 Robert Shepard, a prison inmate from West Virginia, braided dental floss into a 10m rope which he used to scale the walls of his prison and escape. He evaded capture for five weeks only to be arrested robbing a drugstore. It’s unclear if he was stealing dental floss.
This isn’t the only way teeth link to crime. Everyone has a totally unique set of teeth which has allowed forensic dentistry to identify some notorious figures including Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Dental records also denied a theory that a Russian agent was buried in the grave of Lee Harvey Oswald (John F. Kennedy’s assassin) rather than Oswald himself.
Bite marks have been permitted as evidence in a number of criminal trials, the most famous being that of serial killer Ted Bundy who left a bite mark on the buttock of a victim, which helped secure his conviction in 1978.