TEETH (other than Ivory,  q.v.)
(Singular nouns: Fr-dent; Ger-Zähn; Nor-tann; Rus- зуб)


A. Teeth.  Left, coyote (Canis latrans Say, 1823) canines (length ~3.75 cm), from Canada or United States of America, which have been drilled for use in jewelry;  right, fox canines (length ~3 cm) from Canada.  (© photo Chichester Inc., from www.chichesterinc.com)

B. Teeth.  White tip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus (Poey, 1861)) teeth from waters off Bangladesh.  photo Chichester Inc., from www.chichesterinc.com)
DESCRIPTION:  Teeth include at least three different kinds of tissues:  Enamel, dentin(e) and cementum.  The chief inorganic constituent is apatite [Ca5(PO4)3(OH) -- see, however, bioapatite description in BONE entry], which occurs as flattened needle-like crystallites and is described as probably containing “the phases OHA [Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2], DOHA [Ca9(HPO4)(PO4)5(OH)], NCCA [sodium and carbonate containing apatite], and dolomite [CaMg(CO3)2 ]” with a “heterogeneity in enamel composition from one tooth to another and within one tooth due to variations in the composition of the mineral”  (Driessens & Verbeeck, 1990, p.142 & 109, respectively).  The apatite of sharks' teeth, however, is said to be fluorapatite -- Ca5(PO4)3F (Vinogradov, 2001).  Collagen is the predominant organic component. The percentages of these components and water differ for the three kinds of tissues -- among other things, enamel is virtually cell-free whereas dentine and cementum are not;  values given by Driessens and Verbeeck (1990) follow:

Dentine Bone
    wgt. % vol. %    wgt. % vol. %          wgt. % vol. %
  Inorganic 96
90    70 50          70 49
  Organic   1   2    20 30          24 38
  Water   3   8    10 20            6 13
  ~Specific Gravity 2.92     2.51          2.35
    Colors - white, off-white, yellowish, tan, brown, dark gray (nearly black), with fossil sharks' teeth the most widely used of those that are dark gray or black.

    H. (effective hardness of enamel)  ~5

See above tabulation
    Light transmission - translucent to opaque
    Luster - pearly to vitreous
    Breakage - irregular
    MiscellaneousHillson(1986) provides descriptive information about teeth of several animals, especially those of humans.  Teeth, other than tusks, of the same and several additional animals are described and illustrated in other publications -- e.g., Harvey (1983, p.52-56).  The illustrations include one or more teeth of more than a score of marine and non-marine vertebrates as well as of humans of different ages and historical periods.  
OTHER NAMES:  Use of the designation "tusks" for, for example, elephant ivory teeth is well-known (see IVORY entry);  other synonyms for teeth -- e.g., fangs -- have not, so far as I know, been applied to teeth used for adornment or decorative pieces.
USES: Teeth from many animals have long found use as amulets, parts of necklaces and pendants;  as decorations on bags, clothing and pouches;  as knife handles;  etc., etc..  "A crown of porpoise teeth and glass beads from the Marquesa Islands, French Polynesia ...  [in the] Tambaran Gallery, New York" is illustrated in Dubin's book (1987, p.241). The incisors of beavers (Castor canadensis Kuhl, 1820) have found rather widespread use as amulets;  some of these have -- in my opinion, incorrectly -- been referred to as ivory.  Shark teeth, of both currently living sharks and fossil teeth, are "big sellers" as pendants on leather, metal or other necklaces in seashore souvenir shops. Two ojime from the Edo period in Japan (~ 1615-1868) have been identified by DNA analysis to have been fashioned from horse teeth (Kakoi, Kurosawa and Tsuncki, 2006).  Mobiles with teeth of different animals as the hanging elements are relatively common.

Teeth. Fossil sharks' teeth  (upper middle one, height  ~15.5 cm) from pre-Neogene formations of  the Atlantic Coastal Plain sequence of the southeastern United States:  All are Megalodon (Carcharodon megalodon (Agassiz, 1843)  [?=Carcharias megalodon Charlesworth,1837]) teeth from North and South Carolina except the small one on the left, which is an Auriculatus (Carcharodon auriculatus  [?=Carcharocles auriculatus  de Blainville, 1818] -- see Martin, R.A.(nd)) tooth from Albany, Georgia.  McKinney Trammell collection.  (© photo by McKinney Trammell, from www.tellmewhereonearth.com)

OCCURRENCES & NOTEWORTHY LOCALITIES:  Animals whose teeth have been listed in publications (e.g., MacGregor, 1985) or are otherwise known by me to have been used as noted under the preceding subheading follow:  Bears, beavers, camels, cattle, coyotes, elephants (teeth other than their "tusks"), elk, fish, foxes, horses, humans, lions, pigs, porpoises, sharks, snakes, sperm whales (teeth other than those harvested as ivory), tigers, water buffalo and wolves.  These teeth are available wherever the animals live, either in the wild or captivity.

REMARKS:  Different roots for the designations tooth and teeth appear in different etymological sources.  It seems that little, if anything, would be gained by adding my opinion about the various possibilities.  Suffice it to say all correlate the words' roots to the same roots as those for dentist, etc.

In her summary of the early history of the use of beads, Dubin (1987, p.21) notes that: "La Quina [an archaeological site in France, dated ~38,000 B.C.] beads, which predate the earliest known figurative art ...are made from grooved animal teeth and bones and were worn as pendants.” ... [And, in North America] "At least eight thousand years before Europeans crossed the Atlantic, Indians were making, wearing, and trading beads of shell, pearl, bone, teeth, stone, and fossil crinoid stems." (underlines mine)
Attention is directed to the rather amazing photograph by Lewis Radcliffe (on the Flashback page of the December 2005 issue of National Geographic) that serves to contrast the size difference between the ~3 cm long tooth of a great white shark and the ~15 cm long tooth of its extinct relative, Carcharodon/Carcharocles megalodon -- see Martin, R.A.(nd).

Shark teeth, both modern and fossilized are relatively common;  this reflects their being relatively resistant to both chemical and physical decay along with the fact that there are so many teeth. -- Sharks are constantly replacing their teeth;  indeed, it seems that individual sharks may, during their lives, generate several hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of teeth.

Shark tooth is the state fossil of Georgia.


Plastics and Resins - These simulants have been made and are marketed for virtually all the uses mentioned under USES. - [Close observation suffices.].

See also the simulants listed in the IVORY entry.

REPLICAS:  Some of the animals from which teeth are used for jewelry and curios are replicated for diverse decorative uses.  None seems noteworthy here, but some might be added in the future.

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R.V. Dietrich © 2015
Last Update:  27
January 2014
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