Dentists are asked some unusual questions during our work week. One patient complained that every other part of our body seems to have the ability to heal itself. Why cannot human teeth do the same? She was quite correct – our teeth are the only part of our body covered with enamel, which is not a living tissue.
Our enamel is the toughest part of our body (harder than bone), and will not allow it. Animals such as horses and rabbits continually grow their teeth, and the only limiting factor is wearing them down. The teeth do not actually grow, but with age the gums recede. Our human teeth have roots which are typically 2/3 below the gums, and repairs to reinforce our root structure allows dentists to recreate the visible portion of a tooth with a crown which is made to simulate the tooth shape and enamel. Porcelain and composite material allow your dentist greater flexibility in replacing lost tooth structure.
We are all issued with two sets of teeth only. Our baby teeth number 20, and our adult teeth have a maximum of 32. Other creatures may have many more. A horse has up to 44 teeth, and dolphins have only one set but can number up to 250 teeth. Sharks are capable of growing up to 40 sets of teeth. A patient who is a scuba diver tells of collecting sharks’ teeth on various dive sites. They break off, and are continually replacing them.
Another feature of our eating and chewing process is saliva in our mouths. Our bodies are quite good at saliva production, and will create up to 730 gallons of it in one year! It washes away food debris, and kills bacteria which will cause bad breath and cavities in teeth. It moistens our mouth for comfort, and protects the enamel plus helps in the healing process with any oral wounds. Teeth cannot regenerate, but there is one small exception depending on calcium. It may occur where an incoming adult tooth pushes out a baby tooth, and this creates a small forerunner of a cavity in the new tooth. In rare cases where the exact correct amount of calcium is in that person’s saliva, an environmental friendly situation may allow for remineralization of that new tooth. This depends on anyone of any age being an Olympic brusher after all food ingested, plus depends on a healthy diet as well. Many ‘ifs’. Healthy gums depend on saliva, and it neutralizes many of the acids in both food we eat and drinks we consume. It is important to swallow saliva, because that process protects the digestive tract by shielding our esophagus from irritating material as well as preventing heartburn. Our saliva lubricates our mouth, protecting teeth from damage by chewing in addition to reducing wear and tear from eating. Without saliva our digestion system would have a more difficult task with our food intake. The actual composition of saliva surprises most people who discover it is 6 times more powerful than morphine for pain control. This is due to containing the pain inhibiting substance opiorphin. This compound is naturally created and is really part of our body’s self defense system against pain. As we age, our bodies rely more on prescription drugs as well as food supplements.