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It's Us Peter! Your Teeth
Mar 1, 2011

Dear Peter…!

We agreed with the other organs to explain the splendid art inherent in us to you; we have patiently waited our turn. Our aim is to remind you to look after yourself so you will continue to live a healthy life and consciously perform your duty of servitude to our Lord Who created us. In addition to your perfections, as human beings you also have certain faults, such as being negligent, deceptive, or forgetting easily. Even if you realize that these are your faults, each bears a distinct wisdom in terms of Creation. If from time to time you can succeed in avoiding this negligence and escaping these experiences by using these shortcomings as a springboard or platform from which to depart, you will be able to reflect and contemplate on the attributes of God with greater admiration.

Indeed, we are just inside the gateway of the body that opens to the outer world, the mouth, an area through which the various substances you eat to stay alive pass through the mechanic process we implement before actually entering the body.

When food first enters the mouth, it is passed through a grinding process that carries out a mechanical breakdown before the chemical breakdown in the stomach and intestines. We teeth are aligned along on your lower and upper jawbone. When you were only a two-month old fetus, the Creator Who is aware of the importance of our tasks began to prepare us, and we were planted, just like a seed sown in the earth, in the crevices in your jawbone, and concealed by your gums. But still, we do not appear immediately after birth, because we may hurt your mother when she is nursing you. Initially, it is necessary for you to be fed with that unique nourishment, your mother’s milk. However, we begin to gradually emerge in the form of tiny stumps while you are still being nursed by your mother, when you are around six or seven months old.

We were created to cut, chew, and grind food of various textures and hardness. The number and mechanical functions of my colleagues, who have names such as incisors (cutting teeth), canines, premolars, and molars vary. The incisors, which are at the front, begin to appear when you are still only 6–8 months old, the ones immediately beside them erupt when you are 8–12 months, the premolars appear when you are 12–16 months, the canines at 16–20 months and second premolars when you are between 20–24 months old.

During this period, we are known as the milk teeth. When you are 6–7 years old, the molars emerge and then when you are 7–8 years old the central incisors appear; between 8 and 9 years of age the lateral incisors, between 9 and 11 the first premolars, between 11 and 13 years the second premolars and the canines, and finally between 12 and 14 years of age the second molars erupt; the third molars, known as the wisdom teeth, usually appear any time between the ages of 17 and 40, although sometimes they do not come through at all. The two front incisors, the canine beside them, and the two premolars and three molars, that is, a total of eight teeth, constitute half of the jaw, but all the teeth work as a team of 32. Sometimes you may hear about humans who perform various experiments regarding our strength. My strongest chewing force was recorded as 1900 Newton. In a demonstration of strength, a human was capable of lifting a weight of 620 lb as high as 7 inches from the ground. Although each of us has different functions and appearances, in terms of where we are situated, in general our anatomic structures are the same. The enamel layer covering me is very hard and shiny. My enamel layer is even stronger than bone. My sections, which cut hard substances you put in your mouths like knives without bending, are in fact covered in enamel. Beneath the enamel surface is a solid, bone-like substance known as dentin, which has a slightly different composition than that of the bone found in other parts of the body. The space in the center of this layer (known as pulp chamber) is filled with blood cells and nerves that nourish me. The section of each of us that is buried beneath the jaw bone is called the root, while the part that is visible and which you brush daily is called the crown. Throughout your lives, everything you put in your mouths, whether it is hard, soft, corrosive or acidic, comes into contact with the crown. Some substances can damage us. Even stone or steel would not be able to withstand the conditions that we teeth are exposed to. Although made of metal, a carpenter’s saw becomes blunt, and even a blacksmith’s grinder looses it effect after a while. But if you take good care of us, we will serve you throughout your entire life. Unfortunately, I have noticed that you do not take care of us at all. You eat sweet things, but you do not clean us, you eat meat, but you do not brush us, you relentlessly use us to crack open nuts, and pour anything you find, whether hot or cold, over us. We can withstand this for now because we are still young, but it is impossible to say how long we can carry on like this. If any of us cracks and bacteria begins to eat away at us, eventually causing us to decay, you will start to complain, but it will be too late.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, gave utmost importance to us in his daily life. Whenever the opportunity arose, after eating, before prayer, in the morning when he woke up, the Prophet constantly used a miswak, a cleaning twig, and cleansed us with affection. This is why we sparkled like pearls when he opened his mouth or smiled, and those close to him never sensed an offensive odor from his breath. But many people today do have bad breath because they neglect us. Not only does the smell of bad breath make others uncomfortable, but you are also causing harm to yourselves. After the bacteria that hides in the crevices on and between us makes a hole through the enamel and the bone beneath it, this bacteria then begins to spread to your entire body through the blood cells in the pulp chamber, causing damage to other organs of your body. These bacteria can damage vital organs, such as the heart or the kidneys. At first, you do not notice this, because this occurs over a long period. But these bacteria can gradually destroy many of your organs. When you do finally realize what has happened, it could be too late; your cardiac valves may have stopped working properly, or the filtering function of your kidneys may begin to fail.

If you begin to lose us one by one, initially you will notice the change in the taste of your food, then defects in your speech, and eventually you will notice facial deformities and sunken cheeks. You will have to make dentures at great expense, and only in this way will you be able to restore your appearance; but in terms of function, you will never be able to substitute us with those artificial dentures!

You know that one of the main characteristics that distinguish us from animals is speech. Although the focal point of speech is in the brain, speech actually emerges as a sound or words with the collective assistance of many other organs. These are mainly the lungs, the larynx (voice box), the ears and the tongue; but we too play a big role in the correct pronunciation of many letters and words.

In addition, the mechanoreceptors in us and the cell network in our roots display such perfect precision that when we chew, we do not bite your tongue or cheek. Therefore, you can adjust the force of biting pressure for substances of various textures. If these receptors and cell network did not exist, you would use an identical chewing strategy for eating substances as hard as an apple or as soft as pudding. In which case you could not bite an apple or you would attempt to eat pudding with excessive pressure, causing us to grind together with unnecessary force, even breaking us.

So you can see that nothing has been created without a purpose. Are there any unnecessary details in creation? Of course not! This is impossible; as the eternal wisdom and power of He who created us would never permit something which is deficient or of no purpose..!

Dear Peter! I think this should be sufficient in describing ourselves to you. Naturally, the food we breakdown is not in a condition to be swallowed immediately. Therefore, our neighbors, the salivary glands can explain what happens next…

Irfan Yilmaz is a professor of biology in Dokuz Eylul University, Izmir.