28 Mind-Blowing Facts About Your Mouth & Oral Health
The human body is incredible, a marvel, really.
We started to create a list of 10 interesting facts, and there were so many we kept going. There is much to learn and reveal about the interconnected relationships of our biology, both within and without. However, we do know from the growing body of research, as well as our greater understanding of systems biology, that our daily habits, thoughts, emotions, lifestyle, and environment directly and dynamically influence our physiology.
When we examine and understand how our body works, we also learn its language and the signals it offers daily. Self-knowledge is truly the first step to personal agency over our health today and our healthspan tomorrow. The more insights we have, the more we listen. The more we listen, the more we learn and the more possibilities we unlock.
Here are some fascinating (and some rather important) facts about your mouth, teeth, the history of oral healthcare, and its direct impact on your total health and well-being.
The FUN Facts:
The hardest substance found in the human body is your tooth enamel.
Enamel is 96 percent densely packed minerals, which is more mineral than any other tissue your body creates. This makes enamel the perfect protector for your teeth, whether you’re gnashing on jerky or drinking a hot beverage.
Just how hard is enamel? Studies at the atomic level have revealed that human tooth enamel is incredibly complex. It consists of tightly bunched together, oblong-shaped mineral crystals that are a thousand times smaller than a strand of your hair. According to the Mohs Hardness Scale, tooth enamel earns a 5. That means it’s about as hard, or harder, than steel. For reference, diamonds are the strongest substance on earth, ranking 10 on the Mohs scale.
Tooth prints are like fingerprints as they are unique to each person.
Dental records can actually be used to help identify people. In addition, everyone's tongue print is different, much like fingerprints.
If you don’t floss, you miss cleaning 40% of your tooth surfaces.
Those in-between spaces of your teeth are hiding places for plaque, which contain bacteria, viruses, and microscopic parasites.
Your chewing habits are connected to your dominant hand.
If you're right handed, you will chew your food on your right side. If you're left handed, you will tend to chew your food on your left side. Pay attention next time you eat and you will see!
The average person only brushes their teeth for 45 to 70 seconds a day.
The recommended amount of time is 2-3 minutes, at least twice daily. During brushing, we have a tendency to use our dominant hand only, which can lead to less attention on the favored side of our mouth due to limitations in our wrist movement!
The most valuable tooth belonged to Sir Isaac Newton.
In 1816 one of his teeth was sold in London for $3,633, or in today's terms $35,700. The tooth was set in a ring! (source: Guinness World Records 2002).
The first toothbrushes were tree twigs.
Chewing on the tips of the twigs spread out the fibers, which were then used to clean the teeth. The first toothbrush with bristles was made in China in 1498. Bristles from hogs, horses, and badgers were used.
On the other side of the world, Mayan people chewed the sap of Sapodilla tree–chicle latex–to clean their teeth. This sap had a wide variety of uses, most notably was its use as an early version of chewing gum, or “chicle.”
George Washington never had wooden teeth.
This widely-accepted historical inaccuracy appeared in school textbooks until well into the 20th century. His famous “wooden teeth” were dentures made from gold, hippopotamus tusk, elephant ivory and human teeth!
Roughly 36 million Americans do not have any teeth.
Additionally, 120 million people in the U.S. are missing at least one tooth.11 These numbers are expected to increase in the next 10 years.
The average human being produces 7700 gallons of saliva during their lifetime.
To put that into perspective, that’s 1 liter of saliva per day, over approximately 80 years, filling a copious 61,600 red solo cups.
The color of your toothpaste probably matters to you.
It seems that more people prefer blue toothpaste over red toothpaste. Could be because there are more blue toothpastes available in your store than red, but ask around at work and take a poll!
And if you’ve seen news about it online, don’t believe the myth about the “toothpaste color codes” at the bottom of the toothpaste tube equating to “secret ingredients.” Those squares are simply part of the manufacturing process, read by sensors that tell machines where packages should be cut, folded and sealed.
Tooth decay is the second most common disease among humans.
Tooth decay comes in second to the common cold as the most common disease.2
It takes a whopping 43 muscles to frown.
Interestingly, it only takes 17 muscles to smile.12 Exercise your facial muscles and spread some good vibes around you.
The amount of bacteria in one mouth outnumbers people on Earth.
There are more bacteria in the human mouth (sometimes more than 20 billion!) than there are humans on the entire planet.13
Dental floss is apparently useful for more than oral health.
In 1994, a West Virginia prison inmate braided dental floss into a rope, scaled the wall, and escaped!16
The cotton candy making machine was co-invented by a dentist.
The machine that made widely consumed cotton candy possible was co-invented by a dentist in 1897. William Morrison, D.D.S. partnered confectioner John C. Wharton to create the machine that spun heated sugar through a screen, creating the treat originally called "fairy floss."17
Human tongues were once a delicacy for cats.
The saying "cat got your tongue" originated 2500 years ago in ancient Assyria where conquered soldiers and criminals had their tongues cut out and fed to the king's cats.18
Americans spent nearly $37 billion on candy in 2021.
The HARD Facts:
Your whole body health is mirrored by your oral health.
90% of system diseases have oral manifestations.3
Detecting oral and throat cancer early saves lives.
The overall 5-year survival rate for people with late stage oral cancer is 40%4
Oral and throat cancer survival statistics drastically increase with early diagnosis.
If diagnosed at an early stage, the overall 5-year survival rate is 84%5
Early stage diagnosis of oral and throat cancer is low.
Unfortunately, with today’s practices, only 28% of patients are diagnosed at an early stage4
Tobacco and alcohol use are major factors in the risks of oral and throat cancer.
75% of oral cancers in the United States are attributable to tobacco use and alcohol consumption.6 Tobacco use can include consuming tobacco products by smoking, chewing, vaping, etc.
As you age, your risk of oral and throat cancer becomes higher.
Older age, HPV (human papillomavirus) infection, and excess body weight are additional risk factors for oral and throat cancer, and the risk increases more rapidly after 50 years of age.6
Detection strategies are not firmly in place for those testing positive for HPV.
Even though throat cancers (OPSCC) are the most common HPV-related cancers in the United States, no early detection strategy for OPSCC is in place for HPV-positive individuals.7
Oral cancer case numbers are big–and increasing aggressively.
There are over 40,000 new cases of oral cancers every year in the US. This is expected to increase by nearly two-thirds by 20358
People are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every few minutes.
A new head and neck cancer case is diagnosed every 10 minutes in the US.9
Quitting smoking is pretty much the best thing you could ever do for your overall health.
The best way to reduce your risk of oral and throat cancer is to quit smoking, vaping, or using other tobacco products. In fact, within 20 years of quitting, your risk of contracting oral and throat cancer is near to someone who does not smoke.10
1 Villazon, L. (n.d.). [Lifetime saliva amounts produced by humans]. Sciencefocus.com
2 Islam, B. et al. (2007). [Facts and prevention for dental caries]. Medical Science Monitor, PubMed.gov
3 [How to have a healthy mouth]. (n.d.). North Dakota Health and Human Services
4 National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. 2021. (Cancer Stat Facts: Oral Cavity and Pharynx Cancer).
5 Peacock ZS, Pogrel MA, Schmidt BL. Exploring the Reasons for Delay in Treatment of Oral Cancer. J Am Dent Assoc. 2008;139(10):1346–52.
6 Blot WJ, McLaughlin J, Winn DM, Austin DF, Greenberg RS, Preston-Martin S, et al. Smoking and drinking in relation to oral and pharyngeal cancer. Cancer Res. 1988;11(48):3282–7.
7 National Program of Cancer Registries SEER. Stat Database: U.S. Cancer Statistics Incidence Analytic file 1998–2017. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2020.
8 Shield KD, Ferlay J, Jemal A, Sankaranarayanan R, Chaturvedi AK, Bray F, et al. The global incidence of lip, oral cavity, and pharyngeal cancers by subsite in 2012. Ca Cancer J Clin. 2017;67(1):51–64.
9 50 Facts about Oral, Head and Neck Cancer. (n.d.). ENThealth.org (powered by American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
10 Smoking and Cancer. (n.d.). cdc.gov, Tips From Former Smokers®
11 [Facts about mouth health in the US]. (n.d.). Gotoapro.org
12 Francisco, M.A. (2020). [muscles to smile and frown]. Flipscience.ph
13 Cromie, W. (2002). [Discoveries about bacteria in the mouth]. The Harvard Gazette, news.harvard.edu
14 Poinsky, M. (2022). [Consumer yearly spending amounts on candy]. fooddive.com
15 GNP By Country. (2022). macrotrends.com
16 Inmate Wins No Plaque Flossing Way Over Wall. (1994). latimes.com
17 The History of Cotton Candy. (2018). spunparadise.com
18 Kobok, R. (2012). What You May Not Know About Your Tongue. syossetdentalcare.com