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If Teeth Were Like Toes

I believe the late Shel Silverstein could make a great poem out of this blog title.

If teeth were like toes, we'd have 5 little piggies under our nose.

You could stand on your tip-teeth and chew with your toes.

It might be hard to avoid nail polish on your lip, and chewing would be quite a trip.

And would you wear socks in your mouth? Or would you still wear them down South?

Would it be hard to walk? It may be difficult to talk...

And what about your smile? Maybe after awhile you'd get used to that style.

Perhaps we would not ignore, but rather would explore any problems a bit more.

But if it's all the same to youse, I think I'll keep my teeth in my mouth and my toes in my shoes.

But since I don't rhyme all the time, I'll just jump right into the nitty gritty.

Teeth and toes have a number of similarities. Pedicures are to toes as whitening is to teeth. A knockout pair of heels may adorn your feet (or put a skip in your step) just as some beautiful veneers may make your smile sparkle. And on the other extreme, an extraction can be compared to a toe amputation. Both body parts tend to be prone to infection and damage due to misuse and repeated poor functional habits (think about the similarity of wearing ill-fitting shoes and clenching/grinding your teeth). If you are embarrassed of your lower phalanges, you may choose to wear close-toed shoes rather than flip flops, just as if you are ashamed of your dentition you may purposely posture your lip so that your incisors barely show or you may even hold your hand up in front of your mouth when you smile or laugh.

But think about this: If you had toenails that bled and leaked pus every time you touched them, like the ones in the top picture, would you simply put socks and shoes on to cover them up? I hope not! Now what if your terrible toes were completely painless? I still hope you wouldn't ignore the problem, but my guess is that you would be more likely to put off treatment. And when it comes to teeth, that is exactly what a lot of people do. In the mouth it is even easier to hide the problem due to the difficulty of seeing well inside of a relatively small, dark hole.

Just like toes, your teeth take a lot of abuse throughout their everyday function. Your toes are essential for proper balance and walking function, just as your teeth are essential for proper breakdown of food and also have a strong esthetic component. And just like toes, your teeth are rather hidden from everyday view, so they can be easy to ignore when something isn't quite right. But a major difference is that if you have a toe that is problematic, it is pretty unlikely that you would simply opt to have that toe removed. I highly doubt very many of you would say "Oh, it's just a pinky toe. Let's lop it off." But if it was a tooth that had similar problems, there is a much higher chance that you would say "I don't want to spend that kind of money on a molar - just yank it out".

But what most people don't realize is that removing a single tooth has detrimental effects on the remaining dentition by increasing the forces on the adjacent teeth which can affect the overall bite. Suddenly the remaining teeth are taking much more brunt of the force than they were intended to without the neighboring tooth there. And something that is often overlooked is the impact on the bone. When a tooth is removed, a socket will generally heal, but will not fill in with bone completely, thus leaving a concavity. And without a tooth root or implant to provide feedback and mild stress to that bone, the site will continue to remodel and lose bone over time. Loss of multiple teeth can result in major changes to the bone and to the shape of the face.

It's the use it or lose it phenomenon - body parts are meant to be used! If you are on bed-rest for 3 months, just think about how much muscle you will lose. Bone is the same way - it needs healthy stress to maintain adequate density and function, and in the mouth it is teeth or implants that provide this.

The bottom line is that teeth, like toes, are often undervalued until there is a problem. But I hope that if it came down to it and you were told that you have a painless infection in either body part, that you would have it properly addressed.

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