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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 12 Dec 2014, 07:28
From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Adventures in describing teeth types

'Start Writing Fiction' on FutureLearn courtesy of The OU is brilliant: I have no doubt thousands will sign up for a BA. Meanwhile I've taken the hint about the value of 'peripheral detail' to offer in a line what no paragraphs of description can do.

Several hours ago I had in mind a person as a character and began to describe their face. It all came down to their teeth. This is drawing on a teenage crush of mine and I find images and drawings to back up my idea then plunge through some weighty papers, not least, courtesy of The OU Library, a research paper on the incidence of something called 'dental agenesis' or 'retention of baby teeth' (which might be just one or two), to 'oligontontia' which means the rare retention of many baby teeth (0.14%) due probably to inheritance, reduction in the size and form of teeth, or reduction in the size and shape of the 'alveolar process' (the thickness of the bon retaining the teeth). 

This will do for me, though coming away with one word, 'retruded' which may describe the teeth, but still fails to capture what I want to say. Teeth are either smaller, retained baby teeth, or because of the retrusion they appear smaller. Kirsten Dunst shows a touch of this prior to orthodentic treatment. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.2 Post orthodentics for retruded teeth

Orthodentists prefer to adjust the way baby teeth appear in an adult mouth rather than removing them. It depends on how many there are. One is not rare (36%).

The look on the person is of a smaller jaw, the teeth like a row of pegs, the smile of a 9 year old ... though, as I have found, you wouldn't know it.

It is genetic, clusters have be found in Sweden. It can be caused by trauma and illness in childhood.

I am left wondering why one character is studying the mouth of another which such precision. 


Polder B J, van’t H of M A, Van der Linden F P, Kuijpers-Jagtman A M. A meta analysis of the prevalence of dental agenesis of permanent teeth. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2004; 32: 217–226.


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Ughhh. University study leads us down many diverse and interesting routes, but this? I am a bit of a mouth/teeth freak, as in it is one of the first things I notice and my eyes are constantly drawn to bad teeth when I am in conversation with someone with dental issues. Couldn't be a dentist though as the drill sound freaks me out.

William Konarzewski

What you can learn from people's mouths.

Teeth are fascinating. They tell you a lot about personality, affluence, general health, personal hygiene, self-awareness, and what someone last had to eat. Do they chew betel? Do they smoke? Do they use a pipe? Are they phobic about dentists or needles? Do they eat a lot of fruit? It's not always nice looking inside people's mouths or smelling their breath. But mouths are mines of useful information. Lip piercings and tongue piercings give an insight into sexual practices. Heroin addicts have appalling teeth (Shane McGovern's teeth before he had them all ripped out were classic).

As a side observation, many authors use bad teeth in their novels to signpost bad character and bad behaviour.

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Sorry Cathy, but you can imagine what horrors I saw. And thank you William. As I flex my creative writing skills 'teeth' will be in my armoury. My own recluded teeth teel the story of a 14 year old who thougt he could hurry along the orthodentics by tightening the elastics with an extra twist or two. No wonder though the suicide rates are so high amongst dentists.