8 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Teeth

Here are some of the most fascinating facts to, ahem, chew on.

If you haven’t thought about teeth much since your last visit from the tooth fairy, we spoke to experts who are so passionate on the subject they may even inspire you to floss. Here are some of the most fascinating facts to, ahem, chew on.

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A survey of 1,047 Americans showed that someone with straight teeth are perceived as more likely to get a job than someone with crooked teeth, even when their skills and experience are similar. They are also perceived as more likely to be wealthy and successful. “There’s no question we put a lot of value on smiles,” said Dr. Robyn Loewen, a pediatric dentist in Rochester, Minn., and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry fellow, who notes that some dentists from other countries at the nearby Mayo Clinic are surprised at the number of Americans who get braces.

At least, they have fewer bacteria, which scientists think is the reason why only 5 percent of dogs experience dental decay, compared with 90 percent of children, according to the World Health Organization. Plaque has more than 300 types of bacteria, Loewen says. And since your mouth is the entrance to your entire GI tract, it’s essential that the good bacteria prevail. Cavities are also breeding grounds for bad bacteria.

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Enamel is harder than bone, and no manufactured product comes close to comparing to it, according to Stefan Habelitz, an engineer and materials scientist in the University of California School of Dentistry. But, “once your enamel is gone, it’s gone,” says Dr. Maria Lopez Howell, an ADA spokesperson and practicing dentist in San Antonio, Texas. "Make sure you take care of your teeth at home (brush twice a day for two minutes each time and floss or clean between teeth once a day) and get enough fluoride each day via brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and drinking tap water, since fluoride helps to strengthen and protect tooth enamel from the acid attacks that cause cavities."

The average person produces a quart of saliva every day. Over a lifetime, that’d fill a swimming pool ... and that’s a good thing, Loewen says: “Saliva is protective because it bathes the teeth in fluid and neutralizes acid. And there are some ingredients in saliva that are anti-bacterial.” Bonus: It prevents bad breath.

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Acid permanently damages teeth. What’s that have to do with athletes? Sports drinks are acidic. “Athletes who are hydrating with sports drinks instead of water are more prone to cavities,” Loewen says. Your teeth bathed in a sports drink is similar to an ice cube sitting on a counter for 10 minutes, she says. “The tooth is just melting, becoming flat, round, sensitive and prone to cavities.” Diet soda, sour candy, and anything gummy -- including children’s vitamins -- have the same effect. To counteract it, drink soda through a straw that’s placed behind your teeth, and rinse with water afterward. Don’t brush for 30 minutes; the acid weakens enamel, leaving your teeth susceptible to scraping. Even better? Just drink water.

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Dark chocolate has antibacterial properties that actually inhibit decay, says Loewen, who will be handing out toothbrushes and dark chocolate on Halloween. Cheese also has those anti-decaying properties.

Earlier humans had to work a lot harder to chew food that wasn’t cooked, Loewen says. “They had massive jaws,” she says. “Now that everything is cooked and soft we’re kind of wimps when we chew.” As our species adapts to that change, there often isn’t space in our mouths for those third molars, or wisdom teeth, and they’re often removed. “Along with that, we’re seeing fewer and fewer third molars,” Loewen says.

They are five times more common than asthma, Howell notes. "There’s a common misconception that baby teeth are unimportant, but baby teeth matter so much to help kids chew and speak, as well as hold space for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums," Howell says. "When a baby tooth is lost too soon -- usually as a result of tooth decay -- permanent teeth can drift into the empty space and make it tricky for adult teeth to find room." Avoid by brushing for two minutes, twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, eating a balanced diet and visiting the dentist regularly, she adds.

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