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6 Weird Trivia Facts About Dentistry

History can be weird and the history of dentistry is no exception from that rule. Whether it’s strange laws, dental history or historical figures you didn’t know were dentists, we have your fix for weird, miscellaneous facts related to dentistry that you can take to the next trivia night in your town.

1. Overbites Are A Result of Eating Utensils

According to author and food historian Bee Wilson, many of the reasons our teeth are structured how they are today and why toothless people were able to survive in the old days are results of our eating utensils. In her book Consider the Fork, Wilson notes that for some strange reason the reason why humans have an overbite is a result of the invention of eating utensils. About 250 years ago humans moved away from “edge-to-edge” bites towards an overbite — around the same time as the fork and knife entered common usage. Further reinforcing this argument is archaeological evidence from 900 year old skeletons from China which show the same trend around the time chopsticks were invented. On a similar note, she posits that without the invention of pottery, many humans would have died out long before dental care, because it allowed primitive humans to eat foods that didn’t require teeth such as soups and stews.

2. Paul Revere was a Part-Time Dentist

teethYes, you read that right. The man who rode out in the middle of the night to warn of the British’s impending invasion was a dentist on the side. Though primarily a silversmith by trade, metalworkers often performed duties as a town’s dentist too. (Ouch!) When he had trouble making ends meet when the British colony was going through a recession he picked up the practice of dentistry too. In fact, some historians believe that Revere was amongst the first dental forensics expert after identifying a dead soldier by bridgework he had done.

3. There’s a National Tooth Holiday

Mark your calendar, because on September 20th, it’s National Love Your Teeth Day, or well at least it is in China. The holiday, first established in 1989, is known as Aiyari in China, and was implemented in order to promote the dental health of the nearly one and a quarter billion citizens of the world’s most-populous country. Likely as a response to the less-than-stellar quality of dental care and teeth in China, the holiday draws awareness to oral hygiene and taking good care of your teeth in order to prevent cavities which are prevalent in between 60-80% of China’s child population.

4. The Man in American Gothic is Actually a Dentist

Even if you fell asleep in your college Art History course, you’ve probably seen American Gothic before. It’s the picture of the stern-faced man holding a pitchfork next to his wife in front of a Gothic American House. Painted by Iowa-born artist Grant Wood in the year 1930, the man depicted in the picture might be a farmer, but the man he was based upon wasn’t. Instead, Grant Wood chose to model the farmer upon his personal dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby. (The woman in the photo is based upon his sister Nan Wood Graham.) Seems like a pretty strange way to honor the guy who pulls your teeth if you ask me!

5. Women in Vermont Need Permission to Have False Teeth

Vermont of course isn’t alone in having strange laws, for example a city in Nevada has a law that prohibits men with mustaches from kissing women. However, Vermont might be the one with the weirdest dentistry related law. Vermont prohibits women from owning or wearing false teeth without explicit written permission from their husbands. I have no idea what happens if the woman is widowed or chooses a life without marriage, but we can only hope she maintains good dental health then! I don’t want to seem like an activist, but this seems like a law that should be taken off the books.

6. In the Past the Majority of Americans Used to Be Toothless

Dentistry has only truly evolved in the past 100 years or so to the point of being advanced enough and available enough for widespread prevention of cavities, gum disease and undesired tooth loss. According to historians, about 100 years ago more than 50% of the North American population were unfortunately devoid of every last one of their teeth. It gives new insight into why George Washington might’ve had dentures, and we can’t help but think that if a silversmith like Paul Revere is your dentist by night, that might have something to do with the reason people had no teeth.

Dr. Allen Jahangiri is the founder of and practicing dentist at Noble Smile Family & Cosmetic Dentistry. (Obviously,) a fan of dentistry, Dr. Jahangiri enjoys the more offbeat, weird historical side of the practice as well.

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