Desktop version

Home arrow Philosophy arrow The fathers of the church

On the nature of teeth.

Further one asks about the nature of teeth.

Why do some animals have teeth set in order like a saw, and are called the karcharodonta, like the dog, wolf, and lion, but others do not have teeth that intersect one another?

Second, one asks why some teeth are pointed and some are broad.

Third, one asks why the front teeth are replaced, but not the molars.

Fourth, one asks why there are more teeth in males than in females.

And fifth, why a large number of teeth and their closeness indicate a long life, and few teeth that are spaced out indicates a brief life.

And sixth, one asks why teeth grow in width but not in number.

And seventh, one asks why in the human and in other animals in their youth the teeth are white, but in old age they are dark, except in the horse.

To the first, one should answer that in some the teeth are arranged only for chewing and grinding food. And in other animals they are arranged for chewing and for defending, as in the case of the dog, wolf, and lion, and therefore the teeth in these latter animals are arranged in more of a saw-like manner, and this is not so in the case of the former, for example, the horse, ox, and human. But the first animals, like the dog and lion, because they are rapacious and predators, seize their prey as a hook and a gaff seize a fish, and as a saw cuts wood better when it is toothed. For that reason nature has taken pity on them and endowed them with such teeth, etc.

To the second question one must say that food is received and divided by the front teeth and ground up by the molars, and this is why the front teeth are sharp, for cutting and separating, and the molars are broad, for grinding and crushing, like millstones, etc.[1]

To the third question one must answer that the molars are more necessary than front teeth and that is why they are replaced less often, because the molars are produced more from good Greek word meaning "saw-toothed" and is used in this context by Ar. at HA 2.1 (501a16-17). But it does not seem to be used in the DA. the spermatic and solid material than are the front teeth, and for that reason nature has strengthened the molars more, as they cling to the gums with four roots. But the front teeth are fashioned more from the flowing spermatic blood, and for that reason they are more easily replaced, because their material flows and if they are pulled out during an age near to the sperm they grow backnot, however, in old age.

To the fourth question one should respond that strong heat or the power of heat and sufficient and proportionate matter are required for the generation of teeth, and because the power is stronger in males and the spermatic blood is more abundant, teeth are more abundant in them than they are in females, for the opposite reasons.

To the fifth question one should say that a large number of teeth and their close spacing are witness to strength of power and a large quantity of spermatic material, and these two things are necessary for a long life, and for that reason, etc. And furthermore, the more teeth there are and the more closely spaced they are, the better the digestion and chewing in the mouth will be, and as a result the digestion in the stomach and in the liver will be better, and, further, the conversion of the food into the substance of the members will be better. This is why people who eat very quickly and gulp down their food like gluttons have a shorter lifespan, because the food, which is not well chewed, putrefies and generates blockages, and makes the body hectic owing to the lack of nourishment.[2] Thus death occurs more quickly in ones such as these, etc. Teeth that are few and spaced further apart are worse, for the opposite reasons.

To the sixth question one should say that a large number of teeth occurs from the matter, but their size and their breadth can be due to the strength of the agent. Since in the human the spermatic material plays the dominant role with respect to the teeth, they therefore do not grow in number, but because the teeth are solid and less corruptible and since a potent power for converting some kind of food into the substance of the one nourished is always present in a person or in a living thing, it is for that reason that the teeth always grow in length and width. And, moreover, this is also due to the fact that they are constantly involved in the motion of chewing, and would be worn down if they did not grow continuously, for that reason nature causes them to increase continuously, etc.

To the last question one must reply that the closer animals are to the spermatic age, the whiter their teeth will be on account of the sperm, which is white. But in old age the fumes earthy, melancholy, and darkmultiply owing to a deficiency of heat, and as a result there ensues a corruption in the blood, which is the nourishment for the teeth, and this is why, on account of the dark blood, teeth turn dark in old age. But in the horse a great deal of moisture abounds, and its heat is greater in youth than in old age. This is why, if it is not reined in, it often may kill itself from an excessive rage of wantonness. This is why in its youth (for it is an especially wanton animal in youth) its teeth grow dark on account of the abundance of heat, because the overpowering heat at this time burns and darkens the teeth. But its heat is reined in and tempered in old age, and the teeth are nourished then with a nourishment more appropriate to them and are not corrupted or burned by the overpowering heat, and they therefore whiten at this time, and the desire for intercourse ceases in them.

  • [1] "Millstones": lapides molares. A. continues the word play immediately below by calling molars dentes molares. See also QDA 19.12-13.
  • [2] I.e., suffering from hectic fever, from a Greek term meaning "recurrent." These fevers attacked the body's solids, and hence are often rendered as "consumptive" and can be associated with tuberculosis. Cf. Hall (1971), 7f., with Galenic references. Cf. DA 20.1.4.21 (SZ 2: 1369-70).
 
Found a mistake? Please highlight the word and press Shift + Enter  
< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics