22 Words

What children’s skulls look like as they prepare to lose their baby teeth

June 16, 2011 | By Abraham | 185 comments

It’s unfortunate that this display at the Hunterian Museum in London exists, given the fact that it comes from a real person…but it’s also incredibly interesting and illuminating.

This skull shows what is happening in a child’s face as their baby teeth give way to the adult teeth growing in behind them…

Skull with baby teeth

(Photo by Stefan Schäfer)

185 Comments

        1. rexxar says:

          Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, eh? ;)
          This is quite striking, and indeed, beautiful.

          1. huuh says:

            Beauty is only skin deep… who would want a pretty liver?… beauty is meant to be skin deep…

          2. Paula says:

            I’m replying to “huuh” the idiot below. It’s just a metaphor, idiot. It means, idiot that no matter how good-looking a person is on the outside, idiot, he or she may be a bad or bitter or mean person. Got it, idiot?

          1. Misty says:

            Haha I’m absolutely going to quote that “Because once you get under the skin, it’s all gross and toothy” remark. Thanks for a genuine lol :)

          2. geralyn mott says:

            and once you get past the gross ad toothy, you get to the creamy nougat center ;-)

          1. Paula says:

            Oh, yeah, I love sarcasm toward stupid people! You saved me the trouble. And it’s funny!

      1. Katie says:

        Yes, you do see this on x-rays, especially panoramic ones. I work in orthodontics and we see this a lot. You can see the teeth forming in the bones before they even have roots on them. Pretty cool!

    1. signe says:

      From a DENTIST. Sure is a lot of misinformation in these comments. This is normal and not pathological, other than a bit of crowding. The buccal plates of bone have been removed so you can see the permanent teeth within the bone. Primary teeth have long roots but you never see them because they resorb as the permanent teeth begin eruption. By the time the “baby teeth” fall out, there is minimal root remaining. The lower front two teeth are the first to go, followed by the upper front two teeth.

      1. Crazy ManMan says:

        My teeth did not fall out in that order at all, but then again I have teeth so bad that literally not one tooth goes the same way as any other tooth but with braces that is mostly fixed now.

      2. Hannah says:

        How do the roots obsorb? I don’t understand. what do they obsorb into? and why are the two bottom teeth the first to go?

        1. J says:

          The body takes the baby teeth roots back into itself (thus, resorbtion). The same thing can happen if you have trauma to one of your teeth (say like if you’re in a car accident or get hit in the face or something). I’m just a dental assistant, so I can’t tell you how or why, but it is definitely true.

          1. Guy says:

            By the action of the odontoclasts, similar to osteoclasts, they are responsible of the resorption process, separating the mineral portion and digesting the organic portion. The resorpted material is available for many different things, including new bone. All of this by the action of enzymes and ions.

      3. Tink says:

        Nobody here said this was pathological. They said it was gross (and maybe it is for some, I wouldn’t know…)
        That’s a lot of relevant information…

        I’d like to point out something nobody seems to have mentioned: this is a picture of a child’s skull. They probably died a long time ago, but all the same, that’s still sad.

      1. Bess says:

        Signe is correct. We have multiple skulls like this at my work place (i work at a dentistry teaching school) and Veronica this is in fact most likely a real donated skull of a child. We have many ranging from babies to elderly, to reptiles and large mammals including tiger and bear skulls that like this show the tooth roots or have not had the buccal plates removed. Sadly recently one of the students managed to break into the cabinet, and steal a childs skull (approx 9 years old), proceed to drop it then hid the broken pieces in their locker all summer and we are now in the process of trying to carefully reassemble it.

      2. Carr says:

        … And your last sentence was heard in my head as muttered by a filthy British man in a skullcap.

  1. Elizabeth says:

    That’s BRILLIANT. I love bones.

    This may explain why Homo sapiens has a prominent chin and Neanderthals didn’t – that is, if Neanderthals didn’t have milk teeth.

    1. Jeff says:

      Actually, there’s a prevailing theory that Homo Sapiens has a much larger chin in comparison to Neanderthals because much more area was needed to anchor the muscles which control movement of the lips, and therefore speech. This however is somewhat based on the assumption that Neanderthals generally didn’t speak, or just spoke in grunts, as opposed to using their lips to aid in vocalization.

      Just putting that out there.

      1. Student says:

        We learned last quarter that that particular assumption is mostly biased. Neanderthals actually had a specific gene that is acquainted with human’s ability to speak, as well as an accommodating physical structure for vocal capability. This doesn’t mean that they had refined language, but that we should at least give them a little more credit since no one truly knows what they were capable of. Neanderthals must have been able to communicate, because they understood symbols, and hunted in groups. Communication would have been imperative to their survival (they existed over 100,000 years as a species). I will say this, it is strongly believed that the reason they went extinct is because they lost out in the food competition once homo sapiens arrived in the neighborhood. The difference? Humans could adapt new techniques and strategies better, and therefore could adapt technologies to fit the environment.

        1. Other Student says:

          It is more likely that Neanderthals are the same species as homo sapiens and were interbred with migrating populations from Africa to create the modern human population. Indeed, there is quite a bit of genetic overlap between the recently coded Neanderthal genome and certain populations of modern humans. Neanderthals walked upright, had less hair than most artistic interpretations, and were probably fairly intelligent.

          Sources: Took a class at my university
          http://johnhawks.net/weblog

      2. Pomai says:

        Actually, the best theory I have heard is simply that the same gene that codes for size of the back of the skull also is the determinate gene for the jaw, so as our skulls grew bigger to hold bigger brains, our jaws elongated as a side effect.

        1. Christa J says:

          Actually, Neanderthal brains, based on the volume of the skull, were the same or slightly larger than modern human brains.

        2. wandering spark says:

          I have no idea what you are reading, but our jaws have gotten shorter, not longer as we evolved. That’s why so many people today have impacted 3rd molars (wisdom teeth). Our jaws used to be big enough to accommodate those teeth and no longer are.

      1. jenin says:

        actually this child is definetly between 6-7 years, judging from the number of teeth that has erupted.

        1. PR says:

          Sometimes, a person will actually have a third adult tooth in some spots.

          My brother has all of his adult teeth, but has another tooth, still deep in the bone and unerupted, above his upper-right eye-tooth. He says that makes him feel more like a shark (which has several rows of teeth).

          1. i thought i was the only one says:

            This is true…I myself had three upper canine teeth one each side. The third ones emerged a little above the the rest of my teeth across my gumline, so they do look like retracted vampire fangs, a little bit…I don’t have great teeth, obviously, but at least they’re all symmetrical, I guess…whatever that means…

            My 15 month old daughter is teething (5 teeth out now, and the rest are slowly coming), and when I saw this picture, I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated with it….I show people the picture, and they think its scary or really disturbing..and it kind of is, but clearly its totally normal, ALL creature who have more than one set of teeth look like this underneath at some point. But good comments, most of you..

          2. Tink says:

            Speaking of extra teeth… wisdom teeth. Gah, I wish those were never invented. Adult teeth erupting serves an actual purpose. Wisdom teeth, on the other hand, only exist to plague you during your quarter life crisis, as if it wasn’t bad enough already…

            (And no, I don’t need a humourless lecture on the actual evolutionary reasons for wisdom teeth, I’m just being facetious.)

      1. Jesse says:

        That’s silly advice!
        It was deleted from Wikipedia years ago, and it will be found in lots of places by Google.

        And Andrew probably isn’t suffering from a phobia anyway, just squeamishness.

        -Jesse

        1. Kerry says:

          Hey now, it might not just be squeamishness! I definitely had a trypophobic reaction to that image (it’s those holes where you can see the roots!). I’ve made sure it’s well out of my view on this page. And I bet Dario is saying to not Google it for the same reason I would say: A Google search produces the exact kind of images that bother a trypophobe… and some other images that could be considered disturbing to anybody.

          1. Josephine Ansaldo-Nixon says:

            I feel exactly the same. The chambers which hold the adult teeth and it gives me a horrible sensation inside. I feel as if I want to pluck them all out of the holes.

        1. Zach says:

          It’s kept in check by thousands, actually. Wikipedia isn’t an unreliable source by any means.

          1. Lauren says:

            it’s kept in check by thousands of people who don’t know what the frick their talking about. wiki it, they’ll tell you.

          2. Surfing says:

            I know teenage boys who like going on wikipee and messing with the pages. I have five relative who are teachers and they all will not allow their students to use wikipee as a source.

        2. Steve says:

          Wikipedia is *sometimes* unreliable. That doesn’t mean you should discount it as a source. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is *also* sometimes unreliable.

        3. Martin Byrne says:

          Wikipedia is reliable. It’s lazy to trot out the tired cliche that it isn’t. In a sampling of articles, it was found to be more reliable than Britannica. Its structure means that if something is wrong, people will be passionate about correcting it immediately.

          As with all sources, one should engage one’s brain before accepting it. That caveat taken; it’s a pretty great resource.

          1. Lauren says:

            it’s only more reliable than Britannica because they stopped updating that years ago. all research is internet bound, and everyone always tells you not to believe everything from the internet… why do you think anyone can update a wiki page.

      2. Michael says:

        Yup, I looked it up, and I definitely have Trypophobia. I never knew it was an actual phobia. Whenever I see termite holes or wasps nests or the fudging lotus pods I get goose bumps and uneasy =-\

        1. Tana says:

          Swiss cheese, man. Swiss cheese. I can’t look at a block of that stuff without getting sick to my stomach.

        2. Leiah says:

          I never knew it had a name, either! My family always teases me for running (sometimes screaming) from gross holey things they occasionally try showing me online. They find such images fascinating, but I find them completely abhorrent and HAVE to get away and think happy thoughts. Now I know I’m not the only one!

          1. Carr says:

            I was trying to come up with some joke with being grossed out by the band Hole, but let’s face it, Courtney Love grosses us all out.

        3. Josephine Ansaldo-Nixon says:

          Me too, I feel as if I want to stratch and poke them. Whilst I m sorry that you suffer from this to,I am glad I am not alone.

    1. ALW says:

      Actually, there is a chemical released that causes the roots of the deciduous teeth to resorb, loosen and, eventually, fall out. It’s really an amazing process.

      1. Lisette says:

        Nothing as exciting as a chemical I’m afraid. It’s simply the pressure of the adult teeth on the baby tooth roots that cause it to resorb. A similar make up to bone, which will also resorb if under constant pressure, which is the principle used in orthodontics to move teeth, as teeth are harder than the surrounding bone.

        1. Jennifer says:

          Whatever it is that causes baby teeth to fall out did not work with me. Mine would not fall out and each baby tooth had to be extracted individually by a dentist. I have never “lost” a tooth. Any ideas why?

          1. Cheryl says:

            As a guess, you are like me and have a small jaw. It isn’t that the teeth didn’t loosen from the jaw, but rather that they were all so sqaushed together that they couldn’t fall out. I know at least one of the teeth I had pulled (which was all of my baby teeth, plus four adult ones, to make room) was so fragile it shattered when the dentist pulled on it.

        2. Heather says:

          Actually, it’s not true about it only being pressure. My daughter’s eye tooth went astray across the roots of the front teeth, and we have to get it out of there, because, the dentist says, the tooth has a sort of “halo” around it which dissolves the root of the baby tooth.

          Unfortunately, if we don’t do anything it will begin to dissolve the roots of her front teeth and they will be in danger of falling out. So there is some kind of chemical reaction at work.

          1. Kp says:

            I agree with you on that. I have 2 baby teeth still and I’m 26 and it’s because there is a “sack” type thing that holds the adult too until it’s ready to come through and I was born with the sack but not the adult tooth for those 2 baby teeth. The surgeon had to go in and remove the sacks from inside my bottom jaw because there space bubbles so to speak in my jaw from them which makes it more susceptible to breaks because it’s not solid bone. Like air bubbles sort of.

        3. Karen says:

          An orthodontist told me, “there’s not much root left” on my baby eye tooth when I was 16. The adult tooth was (concealed) in the roof of my mouth and he removed the baby tooth – which then came down by itself – then he put a wire round my top teeth to pull it out to the right position. I later met a lady in her 40s who still had her baby eye tooth and the adult one still concealed in the roof of her mouth… so was he lying to me to get the $job?

          1. NikkiK says:

            Probably not – roots may resorb at different rates, or start to resorb and then stop, or you could have had short roots to begin with. Some people can manage to hang on to baby teeth their whole lives, some just don’t have the anchor to last past their 20s.

          2. Tink says:

            What’s an eye tooth? We learned about incisors, canines, premolars and molars (I’m guessing it’s a premolar?)…

  2. Chuck says:

    For some reason, I can’t find bones freaky. Now rotting flesh, that’s freaky. But bones are dry, brittle things. Like tree branches. And I’m not afraid of tree branches. Most of the time.

    1. Luke Emery says:

      Actually, bones are living. The bones you see outside of the body are dead, but if you were to see them while they were living, they are not brittle at all. Problem is that you don’t really see bones unless they are outside, because it would be inhumane to cut into a living bone just to see it. They are magnificent organs.

      1. Laurel says:

        Dude. They’re brittle once they’ve dried out, once you see them, when most people find them freaky. I’m pretty sure we all know that around here because we don’t break our legs by walking…

      2. Jo says:

        I’ve seen it… when I got my upper denture the gum ended up with a huge hole and I got to see, and feel, bone growing because it kept making more bone for over a month. That stuff grows FAST

  3. Luke's mom says:

    Teeth don’t just grow. If you have ever seen an x-ray of your mouth from the dentist office when you were a kid you would have been able to see your adult teeth then too.

    1. Tiff says:

      Actually teeth do grow. The start off as a small bud and then slowly grow into a full sized tooth. If u were to look at a child’s xray u would see the bud stage of growing teeth. ie if theyre 13 you may see the bud of a wisdom tooth being developed. As a permanent tooth becomes full size its pressure will dissolve the root of the deciduous baby tooth which in turn pushes the tooth out.

    1. Nichole says:

      I think it means Unfortunate that a child died at a young age in order for us to have the skull…not that the mechanics of having that many teeth

      1. Kristien says:

        Well it looks like the 12 year molars have erupted so probably closer to 11-12. Still…very sad. But you have to applaud the parents for allowing the child to be studied. Helps all of us who study in the medical field.

        1. April says:

          No 11 or 12 year old has all but 2 baby teeth left in his or her mouth. This is a scull of a 6 year old.

          1. Christina says:

            I actually didn’t start losing teeth until third grade, and I had about that many baby teeth left at 11.

        2. Marge says:

          I don’t know anything about this skull, but a lot of the Hunterian collection was dissected either during the era of bodysnatchers, or after that when you were dissected if no-one could pay for your funeral. So the great likelihood is that the parents of this child had no say in his/her dissection.

        3. James says:

          Actaully I would put this child between 6.5 and 7 years at the time of death as the lower central incisors are just beginning to erupt and the upper first permanent molars are fully erupted.

    2. Martin Byrne says:

      It makes me wonder about the child, and their smile. I hope there was a lot of smiling in his/her life.

      Rest in peace little one.

  4. Becka says:

    Wow, that explains why my whole face hurt when my wisdom teeth were coming in, they’re really up in there!

  5. Tamee says:

    That is pretty amazing. I had no idea they went so far down into the jaw. It looks very vulnerable dosen’t it.

  6. snarf says:

    my question is what happens to that cavity that the adult teeth reside in when they come to the surface? does it fill in to become solid?

    1. James says:

      It does, yes. As the permanent teeth begin to erupt erupt bone is deposited below the apex of their roots.

  7. Emily says:

    I’m not convinced this is a real skull. Looks more like a model to me. I’ve never met a little kid with teeth this perfect, straight, even, and white.

    1. Marge says:

      It predates the point when sugary treats were a big part of the diet, predates antibiotics which discolour teeth – and then of course they would have cleaned the bones and teeth as part of the preparation.

      I’ve seen this skull in the Hunterian, and handled a reasonable amount of real human bones and model ones. This is a real skull.

    2. jen says:

      I agree – and theres not that typical spacing my kids have and have had.. yes I know everyone is different!
      Looks like a model to me.

    3. James says:

      I can tell you from the image that this is almost certainly a real skull. It would be nigh on impossible to produce a model that reproduces the fine detail so well, particularly in the porous parts of the bone which has been exposed by dissection.

      Also the teeth appear particularly white as the skull will have been bleached during preparation.

    1. Candace says:

      I’m not sure where you acquired this piece of misinformation, but I can tell you from experience that baby teeth can and do have long roots. I had to have several teeth pulled as a child and many of them had long roots such as the ones shown in the picture.

    2. Rebekah says:

      Not true. When I was preparing to have my braces put on, my orthodontist had to extract four of my baby teeth. I know this is weird, but we still have them and for this reason: I was absolutely amazed by them; the root was EXTREMELY long, just like these! I couldn’t believe it!

  8. amy says:

    Wow! You know computers can produce simulations nowadays. I appreciate the lesson you are trying to teach us but did you really have to kill and skin some poor little kid to do it? Too far dude, just too damn far.

    1. Snazzy says:

      Wow, clever. This skull is in a museum collection and has been there for a long time- from that mythical time BEFORE computers….

    2. Tink says:

      You’re probably trolling, but since this seems an educational thread anyway…

      Long before computer simulated models and plastic teaching models (which are OK but not much like a real body), medics, dentists etc learned from all sorts of resources, including diagrams, wax models, and especially importantly, real human tissue including skeletons and dissection. There are many things you can’t learn from a picture (or from a plastic model). We all know much of this material used to come from criminals back in the day (and not all was ethically gotten), but these days it’s down to people who donate their bodies to science. Given that this is a museum exhibit, it could be from a medical school specimen (often criminals or poor people in the old days, now volunteers) or from something the museum dug up during excavations. Looking at the quality and careful preparation (bleaching possibly, and removal of some bone to see the teeth), it’s probably a medical school specimen.

  9. Rube says:

    I think this is proof that we evolved from creatures very much like the one in the movie ‘Predator’. If it bleeds, we can kill it.

  10. Matt says:

    That is pretty cool. Like another poster asked, and maybe I missed it, what happens to the empty cavities after the adult teeth come in?

    1. James says:

      Well noticed! The ridges are called mammilons and are present on most incisors when they erupt, but are quickly worn away by the opposing teeth.

    1. Heather says:

      I saw this pic on CollegeHumor.com the other day and was so disgusted by it. My family didn’t see why it bothered me so much. Now I know it’s trypophobia. I didn’t itch while watching the video, but I had to turn away several times. I HATE holey, porous things. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

      1. Josephine Ansaldo-Nixon says:

        No you are not hunni, I am exactly the same. I want to stratch and poke whatever it is.

  11. Tamber says:

    It is not unknown for the milk teeth to remain and the secondary teeth to erupt behind them. Ew!.

    1. Jay says:

      That actually happened to me. One of my baby teeth didn’t fall out at the right time and the adult tooth erupted behind it. To this day, I still have one tooth that’s a whole tooth’s-length behind the others. Sure, it’s unsightly, but it’s also expensive and strictly cosmetic to fix it. Besides, it gives me an interesting mouth-related story, which I’m always pretty excited about.

  12. AD says:

    I am a layman and I think I figured out why the photo looks creepy / unnatural.

    If you observe closely, you will find that the lower jaw, is actually a cross-section ie, the bone has been cut out, which creates the abnormal feel of cavity/hole.

    1. Tamber says:

      Stupid thing to say. I am sure you could have thought up something better than that, but you didn’t.

  13. huldu says:

    Well, we only get two set of teeth. We’d need a new one by 30 and another one by 50. Humans in real life would probably only reach the age of 25-40 at most. To not die of being eaten/wounded by another animal or infection for that long is itself a miracle. Today humans only live long because of the “technology” and diet. Sadly we bring that curse to other animals in our surroundings, well, beside those that we extinct.

    Humans are a plague on this planet. It’s so sad that many of us actually think of us more than “humans” like we’re some sort of divine creature blessing the ground we walk upon. If we would have a catastrophic event occur on this planet the majority of humans would die out mostly due to having no knowledge how to survive. Including myself of course since i too am cursed. You really think humans are kind creatures? Every human will become vicious in the correct circumstances.

    Sorry for going all out like this i just got offended by some of the hypocrits. It’s “unfortunate” that this exist? Are you bloody serious. I am glad it exist as it’s a proof that we all can and will die.

  14. Tracy says:

    It appears as though there are too many teeth. There seems to be 6 deciduous teeth per quadrant for a total of 24. Humans have 5 per quadrant for a total of 20 deciduous teeth.

  15. Kontra says:

    Eeee, that’s why loosing your teeth is so painful…look at that! >_< pretty though!
    The bottom two teeth remind me of flowers :)

  16. nancy sandoval says:

    That’s not beauty. Its totally freaky. How painful it must be to have all those teeth growing in at once. Anyone remember when they were that age and all their teeth were growing in: How beautiful they felt?

  17. Kate says:

    Coming from the prospective of a physical anthropologist this child was young as none of the deciduous teeth have erupted yet. It’s hard to tell looking at juvenile skulls, but from the rounded nature of the orbits, s/he is likely from Africa or Asia. there are no signs of trauma or Harris lines on the teeth, so they lived a fairly calm life. Though, from the wear marks on the teeth this child would have had some issues eating with the pathological arrangement on the lower incisors.

  18. Tracey says:

    Wow, that is mazing and creepy all at the same time, and possibly a record number of posts (or was your Fox News crucifixtion story the most?) I have always wondered if any parent has ever donated their child’s body to science to be studied. Does anyone know? I understand why you wouldn’t, and just can’t explain why I wonder if anyone actually could do it, from a strictly psychological perspective.

  19. Ivy says:

    My DD lost her first teeth at 4. Now she is almost 6 and lost almost all her baby teeth and has her molars.. At her last dentist visit she showed me a xray and all her permanent tooth were there and it showed that for the two upper front there roots were completly disolved a sign that they well fall in any moment.

  20. Sabby says:

    I had poor teeth as a kid, still do, so I saw plenty of x-rays of teeth at various life stages, and my mom is a nurse, so I got used to hearing about and seeing all sorts of stomach churning things, and to this day I still watch medical procedures and documentaries on tv, etc, but THIS creeps me out for some reason…

  21. Andrew says:

    This makes me a little sad. It’s amazing to see it, but not fair that the child had to die for us to see it. Amazing, but a shame :(

  22. kenshi789 says:

    since i’m trapaphobic, that was utterly disturbing and i’m still getting chills. but is interesting to see the permanent teeth before the baby teeth

    1. Josephine Ansaldo-Nixon says:

      I am trypophobic to and have only just discovered that it is a real phobia I can’t get these images put of my head, it is very disturbing.

  23. Josephine Ansaldo-Nixon says:

    Can someone please tell me what happens to the holes in the top and jaw that hold the adult teeth once they have emerged? I agree, this makes me feel creepy, I feel like digging all the teeeth out of their spaces, it makes me feel really funny.

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  25. shutrbg says:

    Now I see why we call them “eye” teeth. And I see why they can take so long to erupt. Fascinating really.

  26. Josh says:

    I had all my teeth when I was 1. So sadly my jaw was too small to take on normal form when I got older, which left me with the ugliest bottom front teeth I could have ever wanted. I honestly hate my mouth and have yet to find a dentist that could help me out, let alone I more than likely wouldnt be able to afford it.

    But yea, hate my terribly crooked teeth and seeing this kind of helps me realize how exactly they ended up that way.

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