Why do we have two – deciduous and permanent – sets of teeth?

Have you ever wondered why humans have two sets? We have a total of 20 deciduous or baby teeth and 32 permanent teeth. But why is it really necessary?

Humans, same with other mammals, are diphyodonts. It is a term describing any animal that has two successive sets of teeth. As a human, our baby teeth start growing during the embryonic phase, consisting of ten top and bottom teeth. They will begin to surface during the first six months up to two years, making it feasible for our mothers to breastfeed us without experiencing any pain. Meanwhile, the molars that grow at the back of the mouth typically emerge during the end of the weaning period. It is also the time when the skull growth significantly begins to slow down.

As our parents try to accustom us to the idea of eating during the age of two to four, we need to be able to bite and chew the food we eat. However, in our childhood and adolescent stages, our jaw isn’t developed yet to hold matured teeth fully. Thirty-two adult-size permanent teeth are too big for our still-developing jaws. So, our deciduous or baby teeth serve as a placeholder, waiting for the larger set of permanent teeth to come.

Moreover, our baby teeth have a few more other roles. While they are needed for proper biting and chewing, they also aid in speech developments and help oral muscles to perform at their best. Those are undeniably significant functions, but you might be wondering why can’t we just have our baby teeth forever and avoid them from eventually falling out into oblivion?

Well, our baby teeth again form when our skull and jaw are also still developing. Our jaw as a child simply does not have enough space to accommodate such a huge number of teeth, and it will be too cramped up. However, if we keep our milk teeth, they would be too small and have significant gaps instead, preventing us from biting or chewing food efficiently. Also, if we already have our adult teeth right away as infants, then, our heads would be too big, making it normal child delivery impossible.

Should we still take care of our baby teeth? Certainly, yes. While it will eventually fall out, milk teeth should be given the same attention. Doing so helps children develop good oral hygiene, keeping the baby teeth healthy. Remember that when baby teeth are lost too early due to extractions or cavities, it can lead to problems with the adult teeth, such as misaligned bite or crowding.

While humans are diphyodont, shark and alligators are polyphyodonts. Both animals can produce new sets of teeth should anything happen to them. It would be great if humans have the ability. With that, many researchers are devoting their time and efforts, looking for ways on how to stimulate the body to regenerate teeth should they get knocked out.

Truth to be told, experts found out that our DNA can regenerate lost teeth or limbs. However, it is not switched on. Who knows what might happen in the future? If researchers can trigger the polyphyodont mechanism in humans, Hockey players, and boxers, won’t have to worry about losing their teeth during the games.

More Readings:

Human Tooth (Wikipedia)

Deciduous teeth (Wikipedia)

Permanent teeth (Wikipedia)

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