| Down to a Science |

Baby Teeth      

That got me kind of nervous. Because if Mimi’s teeth can just fall out, could my eyeball fall out? Could my arm fall off?

Hello, kiddos,

This is Professor Mordy Maven, Thinker, Wonderer, and Figure-Outer of all things Science-ish. What that basically means is I try really hard to figure stuff out. I do the hard work so you don’t have to!

Tonight at supper, we had spaghetti and meatballs. Suddenly I heard this loud slurping sound. I looked across the table and saw my little sister slurp a strand of spaghetti right up in between her teeth. First, I thought, hey, cool! Then I thought, Whaaat? Why does she have a space where her front tooth you used to be?

I asked my mother and she said, “Oh, Mimi’s tooth fell out today.”  All matter of fact, like body parts falling off was totally normal. And that got me kind of nervous. Because if Mimi’s teeth can just fall out, could my eyeball fall out? Could my arm fall off? What’s going on around here? Help!

I ran upstairs and grabbed as many books as I could while I still had use of both my arms and both my eyeballs. Then, I started reading up on everything I could find about teeth. After chewing through the information (get it?) I felt really relieved because I’d finally discovered the difference between deciduous and permanent teeth.

You see, the first set of teeth you get are your deciduous or primary teeth. These are also known as your baby teeth because you get them when you’re just a baby. Duh!

But believe it or not, these teeth actually start to grow even before you’re born. When a baby is around six months old, their teeth start to cut through the flesh of their gums. (So I guess the first thing you actually chew is your own gums!) The feeling of the teeth cutting through the gums is painful for the baby so they cry. A lot. (What a bunch of babies!)

Eventually, about 20 baby teeth grow in. (Which equals a lot of crying.) These are your first set of teeth. If you’ve ever watched a baby, you know that they use their teeth for chewing the tires on their stroller, your father’s slippers, and occasionally even some Cheerios. They also use their tiny, sharp teeth to bite down on anything they can reach. So move your fingers out of their way!

Over time and a lot of chewing, the baby teeth begin to wear down. The reason teeth stay in our mouths is because they are held in place by long, smooth roots that keep them in our jaws. These roots are stuck inside your jaw where you can’t see them, just like you can’t see the roots of a tree. Front teeth usually have only one root, but back teeth can have as many as three roots. When the time is right, special cells begin to eat away at the roots of the teeth. As the roots deteriorate, the teeth start getting shaky and eventually fall out.

Baby teeth usually start falling out by the time a kid is six years old. The last one generally falls out by about 12 years of age. I know what you’re thinking: Without teeth, how will I chew gum in class or chomp carrots or gnaw through a plastic wrapper? Will I need dentures before my bar mitzvah? Let me reassure you: No, you will not. Because luckily for you, after your baby teeth fall out, your mature, or permanent teeth, grow in. And those are the teeth you keep for the rest of your life. (Hopefully!)

When a baby tooth falls out, it makes a space so the adult tooth can grow into the gap where the baby tooth used to be. At first, kids can look pretty funny with their new teeth. In fact, they kind of look like buck-toothed bunny rabbits. That’s because adult teeth are slightly yellower, much bigger and have bumps and grooves at the bottom. They’re also a lot stronger than baby teeth, with much longer roots. That’s to make sure they stay in a lot longer!

Once I’d learned all this, I felt very relieved. I went back to the supper table and chowed down on my meatballs and spaghetti.  I also took the opportunity to call Mimi a Toothless Wonder and told her that as long as she has baby teeth, she’s still a baby. That got her crying and yelling (just like she used to when she was teething) and yanking on my arm while screaming, “Shthop it! I mean it, shthop it!” Hysterical, right? I don’t know why my mother doesn’t agree.

So basically, what I discovered after all my research is that teeth falling out is just a normal part of growing up. As an added bonus, it helps you do really cool tricks with spaghetti! And the best news of all is that since you don’t have deciduous arms — or eyeballs — I guess I can be reassured that the pair I’m using now won’t fall out. Whether my sister ends up yanking them off is another story!

Here are some fascinating facts about teeth that you might like to know:

The front teeth of rats keep growing so they can use them to gnaw at food without wearing them down. Alligators can grow new teeth whenever they need. Sharks can too!

Teeth are totally unique! Just like fingerprints, no two people have identical teeth.

In medieval times, toothaches were treated by boiling earthworms in oil and then dropping the oil into the person’s ear. If a tooth came loose, they’d tie a frog to the person’s jaw. And in medieval Germany, they thought they could cure toothaches by kissing a donkey!

I hope that helped solve the mystery for you, kids. And with that, I’m on to my next quest…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 928)

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