It’s All About the Teeth: Becoming Long in the Tooth, Etc.

Unfortunately for many when one is said to be “long in the tooth” that person is often short of tooth, or teeth to be more precise. And, as you age it is often the case that replacements must be had for teeth that have been cast or extracted. I suspect that in time science will have figured a way for humans to grow new teeth just as we did as youngsters when we cast off our baby teeth.

But for now I for one must deal with the process of obtaining artificial replacement teeth; i.e. dentures. Some people fall for the lure of the single day total extraction and instant dentures approach. Perhaps my dentist is old school but he says the instant procedure is fraught with fitting problems down the road. So for me it is out with the old and several weeks sans teeth until proper new ones are made.

I asked my youngish, but never the less old school, dentist what was done with the extracted teeth. Do people ever want to save them? I asked because I had read about ancient customs of people saving their cast or removed teeth (more about this below), even being buried with them. He said that he had heard of that custom in his country (somewhere in Latin America, I forgot to ask where). Anyway, he went on to say that extracted teeth must handled as hazardous medical waste. Given today’s price of gold I suspect some patients would like to recover the precious metal to offset their dental bills!

Old superstitions and customs regarding teeth:

Although it was “unlucky to count your teeth,” according to Sidney Addy’s Folk Tales and Superstitions (1895), it was also “the custom in Derbyshire for people to preserve their teeth in jars until their deaths, after which the teeth were put into their coffins and buried with them. Mothers would also preserve the teeth of their infant children and keep them in jars. It is said that when you go to Heaven you will have to account for all the teeth that you have upon the earth. A man said that his grandmother used to call out at a funeral, Have you got his teeth in the coffin?”

Vance Randolph’s Ozark Superstitions (1947) pointed out that astrological signs determined when locals’ teeth were pulled, “even when they were in considerable pain. Hillfolk generally agree that . . . extractions go best in Aquarius or Pisces [and] old-timers say that it is better to pull a tooth in the morning than in the afternoon no matter what constellation the mouth’s in.”

In Folklore Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders (1879), William Henderson offered a curious superstition involving childhood tooth loss: “My Sussex correspondent tells me of a young woman of that county who remonstrated against throwing away children’s cast-teeth, declaring that, should they be found and gnawed by any animal, the child’s new tooth would be like one of that animal. In proof of her assertion, she used to cite a certain old Master Simmons, who had a very large pig’s tooth in his upper jaw, the sad consequence of his mother having by accident thrown one of his cast cast-teeth into the hog trough.”

Source: Courtesy of  author Jeffrey Kacirk who compiles the “Forgotten English” day calendars and has written several books about the English language and peculiar words in the lexicon.

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3 Responses to “It’s All About the Teeth: Becoming Long in the Tooth, Etc.”

  1. yetigirl Says:

    Ha, love this! These old customs are very interesting. Funny that your dentist told you that extracted teeth must be treated as hazardous medical waste. Mine asked me if I wanted to keep the wisdom tooth he had just removed from my mouth. So, I did! Haven’t figured out quite what to do with it yet…

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