Dentophobia, the fear of visiting the dentist, can be a real thing, and nightmares of losing teeth are common. However, what could be more horrifying than exploding teeth?
If you are someone who dreads a visit to the dentist, you are not alone. More than half the adults fear going to the dental clinic for consultation. A visit to the dentist’s office might lead to a diagnosis of terrifying dental diseases.
These diseases can be very frustrating and painful, and sometimes end with a nightmare you could not prepare yourself for: exploding teeth that leave the person in shock. In this article, we touch upon the rare but much observed phenomenon of detonating teeth.
Curious Cases Of Dental Explosions
It was Pennsylvania-based dentist W.H. Atkinson who first heard reports of exploding teeth from some of his patients. He would hear from his patients of the suddenly exploding teeth that did not seemingly have any explanation.
Patients would complain of loud, painful explosions of the mouth that left them shocked and in severe pain. The explosive incidents were rare, yet frequent enough that he was able to record three of the most prominent cases shortly after they occurred.
The first case that Dr. Atkinson recorded was that of a clergyman. The incident took place in 1817 when the man experienced pain and discomfort near his canines. The pain was, at first, just a prick and discomfort.
However, with time, the man experienced excruciating pain that left him banging his head on the ground like an animal. He tried to relieve his pain by poking his jaw with a fence post. He also tried to plunge his head inside bowls of freezing cold water to reduce the pain.
However, the efforts of the gentleman to minimize pain did not work, and he continued to suffer for some days. The pain almost drove him mad. Then one day, in the morning, the clergyman felt a sharp pain in his tooth, and a pistol-like sound went off.
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His tooth had burst into tiny fragments, leaving his mouth sore and pained. However, just after the explosion, he felt his pain subside and eventually gone. Apart from losing a tooth, he did not experience any other post symptoms of the strange phenomenon.
The next case that the dentist recorded happened 13 years after the first one. The case happened with a woman named Mrs. Letitia. She lived near the doctor, so he was able to arrive on the scene very promptly and the account that he recorded was more closely observed.
He recorded that the woman came to him for treatment of a constant toothache that left her frustrated. After trying many different remedies, she did not find relief until her tooth exploded. Just like in the first case, the woman felt instant relief after the tooth exploded.
The third case that the dentist recorded in the journal happened in the year 1855. The case happened with a woman named Mrs. Anna. The woman reported constant pain in her upper left canine.
The third case was a bit different from the other two cases as the location of the pain was changed. However, she also felt instant relief after the explosion that left her tooth split in half from the front to back.
Other Cases Of Teeth Explosions
The incidents recorded by Dr. Atkinson were not the only incidents in the world. Other dentists and doctors also observed similar cases. Other examples have been reported by dentist J Phelps Hibler who described the incident in much detail.
According to him, such an explosion happened with a lady who faced toothache for many days. The pain culminated in an explosion of the molar tooth. While earlier dental explosions seemed harmless except for the loss of a tooth, this incident left the lady with a concussion and also took away her hearing for many days.
The doctor described that the force of the explosion was so high that the lady almost suffered a fall. The loud sound of an explosion from the mouth must have left the lady shell shocked and temporarily unable to hear.
In the year 1918, another incident happened with an American naval officer who complained of constant pain in his lower left molar. The doctor observed the man and saw that one of his molars was bifurcated at the roots.
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The naval officer explained that he was fighting in a boxing match when he got a hard blow on his jaw and felt his tooth explode. Unlike other incidents, the pain started after the explosion, and here we may have a more straightforward explanation in that the tooth may have been destroyed during the fight.
Throughout the 20th century, such incidents were prevalent and recorded by various dentists. What really triggered such explosions could be explained to some extent based on the observations of a young mother. The mother had two girls, and when the girls’ baby teeth fell out, she kept the teeth on the mantelpiece as memoirs.
The original teeth were whole and without a crack. However, after keeping the teeth for some time on the mantlepiece, the mother observed that the warmth of the mantlepiece led to the explosion of the teeth, which sent many fragments of the teeth around the room.
At first, the mother did not realize that the warmth of the mantlepiece caused the teeth to explode. It was when the rest of the teeth kept in a small box on the mantlepiece also developed cracks that she thought that the heated mantlepiece must have caused cracks on the teeth.
However, dentists did not know for sure if a change in body heat or environmental heat led to the explosion of teeth. This was because even explorers who came back from the Antarctic region claimed that their teeth suddenly shattered. They would claim that the extreme cold temperatures of the region made the teeth explode.
At first, Dr. Atkinson explained the phenomenon by blaming it on a build up around the tooth which exposed the pulp of the teeth to high pressure. This could ultimately cause an internal explosion. Another explanation that Dr. Atkinson gave was the build-up of excessive gases from tooth decay that could also result in an explosion.
However, the real reason was not known until much later, and did not lie in tooth decay at all. Instead the true culprit may have been the metal fillings that dentists used back in the 19th and 20th centuries. The combination of the metals used, particularly tin and lead, would effectively turn the tooth into low voltage battery. The electrochemical charges and build-up of gases from the metal fillings led to the eventual explosion of the tooth.
Modern dentists are still uncertain if that was the real reason behind the dental explosions. However, hopefully the cause has truly been found and nobody’s teeth will explode today.
Top Image: What could be the cause of the exploding teeth? Source: Wellcome Collection gallery / CC BY 4.0.
By Bipin Dimri