Wednesday, 8 June 2011


Today I saw something I have never seen before. This happens fairly frequently, since I've only been on the planet 28 years and I've spent most of that time resolutely not looking at teeth.

When teeth suffer traumatic damage, it is most often to the enamel and underlying dentine of the tooth.  Chipping and breaking of the crown of the tooth is the kind of thing that happens when you inadvisedly pull off a bottle top with your teeth, or when you fall flat on your face on the floor catching a table on the way down.  This trauma can be very minor in nature - just a small chip or fracture - or it can result in major loss of the tooth surface and lead to the opening of the internal 'pulp cavity' of the tooth, which can lead to a lot of pain and eventual infection.

However, it is only very infrequently that you break the root of the tooth within the mandible (lower jaw) or maxilla (upper jaw) of your face.  In fact only 0.5 to 7% of  injuries to adult teeth are root fractures. Without medical intervention it is difficult to retain the tooth or for it to heal itself - normally the tooth would be lost.

But take a look at this guy...

Upper right canine from a young 17th century male.

There is a horizontal fracture across the root of the tooth, with a displacement of around 2mm. It appears that half of the tooth has been hit extremely hard from the front, causing part of it to travel backwards in the mouth - and then it simply healed, without being reset or secured in place.

It might be jumping to conclusions (which is not science, but bear with me) but since this came from a young male soldier involved in the Seige of York in 1644 - I'm thinking it was probably a fight that resulted in this damage. In fact most trauma of this is from good ol' fist fighting. A determined punch connecting to the area below the nose, could result in exactly this kind of thing.

We'll never know of course, but at least it's fun to look at - if not fun to have acquired!