As we near Halloween, even the most skeptical of us starts to think about certain superstitions. Some of the most common include the curse of bad luck if you walk under a ladder, cross a black cat or break a mirror or losing money if you set your purse on the floor.
There’s also a whole host of myths that surround the teeth and mouth. While these superstitions might seem silly to us now, our ancestors used these quips as a way to explain the world around them. In a world without Google, these were their go-to answers to respond to natural occurrences.
Unlucky to count your teeth
There’s quite a bit of superstition around counting objects, and your teeth are no different. It was once believed that if you counted the teeth in a comb, you would lose your own teeth. This superstition date back Sidney Addy’s Folk Tales and Superstitions, published in 1985.
The cause of toothaches was once blamed on never-seen tooth worms that lived in the mouth and would bury themselves in the tooth, causing pain. Another tale placed the blame of a toothache on the order in which you removed your socks and shoes at night. Putting the right sock on first would cause a toothache, unless it was in the dog days of summer, and then the other one would cause a toothache.
If you think that idea is far-fetched, then the cures for toothaches might just knock you over. In western Kentucky, it was believed that if you cut a wart from a horse’s leg and rub it on the gums, your toothache would go away. In other parts of the country, remedies for a toothache included smearing the tooth with honey, carrying a small bag filled with horse teeth or teeth from a corpse, or even crushing ladybugs into a juice and applying that to the affected tooth.
Gain a child, lose a tooth
The thinking behind this superstition is that, for every child you have, you will subsequently lose a tooth. While there isn’t a direct link, this tale could arise from the fact that women commonly experienced dental issues due to hormonal and other physiological changes that also lead to losing teeth. Several common pregnancy issues, such as vomiting and craving of sweet and starchy food, can erode the enamel and cause cavities—which can eventually lead to tooth loss. Pregnancy also interferes with the woman’s ability to absorb calcium, which may also weaken teeth.
Teeth that are set close together
While we know why teeth are close together now (due to evolutionary changes to the jaw), superstitions once made up reasons for teeth that were especially close together. One myth suggested that, if your teeth were close together, then you would always live close to your birthplace. Another variation stated that if your teeth overlapped you would live near your mother. Overall, it’s clear that our ancestors thought that close-set teeth meant their children wouldn’t stray too far away. Since parents used to depend on their children for labor and help around the house, they were doubtless looking for a sign that their children would always be close at hand.
Gap in the teeth
Today, if you have a gap between your two front teeth, you’re most likely looking for orthodontic options to address it. However, at one time this gap indicated being lucky, specifically pointing to riches and travel. In other circles, it indicated that women would marry twice. The jury is still out whether that is also considered lucky!
If you have your tooth pulled, you’re probably not focusing on what you should do with the tooth once it’s extracted. There are a lot of superstitions and beliefs, however, about what one should do with a pulled tooth. Some say that putting the tooth under a rock will allow the new tooth to grow in straight, and many superstitions involve pulled teeth turning into money. It’s possible that pulled teeth were considered talismans of some sort, whether for good or bad. One thing’s for sure, though—burning your teeth won’t do much, as they don’t disintegrate under high heat! Why this was a practice in the 1700s, we’re still not sure.
Drinking urine will prevent tooth decay
This is definitely one of the grosser myths out there. Some ancient Romans reportedly used urine as an oral disinfectant. Many people then believed that rinsing their mouths with urine would protect teeth against tooth decay. Since urine contains ammonia (which can be used as a cleaning product), it is possible that this was the root of the myth.
The moon…and teeth pulling
If you need a tooth pulled, consult your calendar and the phase of the moon! Superstition held that, for the least pain and fastest healing, have any tooth pulled during the waning moon. Once you’ve had it pulled, and only if you didn’t use anesthetic, legend had it that you then need to throw the tooth over your head—and poof! You’ll never have tooth decay again.
The story goes that, if you chose not to throw your tooth over your head, then sleeping on the tooth could still bring you good luck (and potentially money under your pillow).
There are several superstitions that surround wisdom teeth. Since most of us these days have them removed, we aren’t faced with the intrigue that surrounds the third set of molars.
First, if your wisdom teeth come in late, you’ll have a long life. Others believed that you don’t actually achieve wisdom until you cut your wisdom teeth. Finally, if you do have to have them pulled, keeping a pulled wisdom tooth can bring you good luck. Or at least, that’s how the story went.
From a dental provider’s perspective, these are nothing more than fun beliefs that have survived centuries. Let us know if you have a favorite!