The Tooth’s Position in Art and Literature

Our teeth are major survival tools, yet even with this functionality they still lend themselves to past and modern artists, as a symbol and shape of expression. Additionally, they are the stuff of myth and legend and represent many emotions, depending on the context or background, as well as a unique feature for any they inspire.


Carved wooden molar painted white on top with red roots.

Carved folk art wooden tooth found on


Deco art piece with dentist speaking to lady leaned back in a 60s style coral chair.

Dental art: Deco dentist piece found at because dentists are inspiring too!

Teeth could relate to appearances, the way the subject shows their faces to the world or present themselves to it. Teeth also offer a signal of insincerity, wisdom, or growing old.

Teeth emerge in historical texts and literature. One example is Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth,” in which the protagonist’s cultural roots are personified as her teeth, and their loss a metaphor for the tearing up of her past.

Sepia photo of Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe’s story Berenice features a tooth obsessed narrator.

Edgar Allan Poe utilized a dead girl’s teeth to objectify the narrator’s obsessive desire to analyze, explore, and consume knowledge in his story “Berenice.” In Greek mythology, Dragon’s teeth were planted and arose as warriors in both Prince Cadmus’s story and in Jason’s Golden Fleece quest.

Black and brown ancient Greek vase depicts Mythological Jason's destruction.

Ancient Greek Vase depicting Jason’s plight, 500 – 450 BC. (Source:

In ancient civilizations such as Greece and China, before the cause of cavities was known, people believe the myth of a tooth worm which destroyed the human mouth. This actually makes sense since the erosion caused by bad oral hygiene often looks similar to worm holes in fruit. The ceramic carving below depicts the tooth worm in all his evil glory.

18th century French carving depicting the legend of the toothwarm destroying teeth from the inside.

The tooth worm legend carved in ceramic as a demonic figure. It was done in 18th century France.


Biblically, the teeth connect in three places (Hebrews, Zechariah, and psalms) to the experience or working out of one’s salvation.

Though not all modern art offers a deep meaning to teeth, our oral bones continue to find their way into sculpture, canvas, and ink.


Black and white line drawing of a cartoon like creature wtih big teeth by Cressy.

Cressy’s “Old One Tooth” drawing that’s been printed onto posters.


Golden Tooth on green canvas by

Golden Tooth print designed by ElectricPopSpot and printed by


Check out these creations by Fine Artists Fantich & Young, dubbed Apex Predator Shoes.

Shiny black shoes with hundreds of teeth implanted into the soles.

Apex Predator Shoes Sculpture done by artists Fantich and Young.

“The concept of all of our work is mixing Darwin’s ideas and theories of evolution and putting them into a sort of supernatural context, which is a contradiction, but contradictions create tensions and tensions create ideas,” Young told Daily News in 2012.


Brightly colored ceramic tile depicts four teeth from side view with bright and varying patterns and sections on a aqua background color.

This bright colorful tile displays modern Etsy Artist Heather Galler’s take on tooth folk art.


Teeth have even taken over digital art medium.


As you can see, the teeth can play a role that’s about much more than function and aesthetics. Though we here at Marchbank’s office in Arlington enjoy our work and think health is as important as art, we know that teeth can be muses for the world’s artists.

About Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S.

Dr. Mark Marchbanks has practiced dentistry in Arlington Texas since 1983. He enjoys caring for patients young and old. You can find Dr. Marchbanks on
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If it's been more than 6 months since your last teeth cleaning, give us a call today to schedule your check-up.