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Interesting Things Your Teeth Can Say About Your Genetic Ancestry

As you put on a big smile while facing the mirror, you may notice that you either have an entirely or slightly different tooth formation from those around you. This is because each person's teeth are distinctive in terms of structure, and alignment. Genetics initially shape our teeth, but then teeth are eventually reshaped and are sometimes negatively affected by the food we eat and our daily lifestyle.

Your dentist can tell numerous things about your personal health and nutrition just by checking your teeth, and these can also reveal information about your family history. The genetic markers that govern the size and shape of your teeth are passed from generation to generation, and some of them are linked to specific geographic regions.

Are you now getting curious about your ancestry links? Well, let’s see if your teeth give you any clues!

What Does Genetics Influence?

  • Jaw Shape

    Your genetic composition determines the shape and size of your jaw and teeth, thus you have no control over this. The remarkable uniformity of craniofacial structure across families, often throughout multiple generations, shows that a few essential genes have a particularly substantial influence on facial shape and appearance. This also includes the size of your interdental spaces.

  • Misaligned Teeth

    In most cases, it is because of genetics that your permanent adult teeth came in misaligned - or not at all. These orthodontic conditions can be classified as any of the following: overbite, crossbite, crowding, underbite, spacing, and open bite.

  • Enamel

    The enamel on your teeth begins to grow in the womb and ceases around the age of one year. This is the power of genetics at work. Many people have great enamel, while others have enamel that is not as strong, which weakens the tooth's protection. Because your body cannot create more enamel, it is your responsibility to take care of what you have and develop consistent dental hygiene.

Ancestry Links and Tooth Formation

Our teeth, like many other features, had been developed and specialized through thousands of years to meet the needs of our forefathers and their lifestyles. These adaptations are still present in our mouths nowadays, and they can help us figure out where our ancestors came from.

Depending on where your ancestors came from, you may have teeth that reflect the modifications made to fit their way of living, environment, and nutrition. The three most notable teeth and ancestry links, (of which there are many variations), are the following:

Shovel Teeth

Shovel-shaped incisors (SSIs) have a well-defined elevated enamel border and a noticeable hollow section on the palatal surface of the teeth. Teeth with this extraordinary nature are referred to as "shovel-shaped incisors'' because they resemble a normal coal shovel.

"Sinodonty" or "Sundadonty" are terms used to characterize the dental characteristics of SSIs. The geographical distinction between these two terms is significant. While the term "Sino" refers to the population of China's mainland, Mongolia, and Eastern Siberia, the term "Sundo" refers to the people who live south of those places. As for Asians, Asian-derived people, and Native Americans, SSI is common, whereas it is rare or nonexistent in African and European communities.

Talon Cusp

The talon cusp is an uncommon dental condition in which a cusp-like mass of hard tissue protrudes from the back of a tooth, usually a top tooth. This protrusion has a conical shape that mimics the talon of an eagle. Talon’s cusp teeth are more often seen in men than women, and are more common in permanent teeth.

Talon cusps are found in about 1% to 6% of the population. Individuals with Native American, Chinese, Inuit, or Aleutian ancestry are most likely to have this incisor tooth shape, which can also appear like a T when viewed from underneath.

Moreover, the talon cusp emerges during early odontogenesis, just like other dental abnormalities that impact one's teeth. The etiology of such a remarkable development is unknown, despite the fact that both environmental and genetic variables are involved. Nonetheless, heredity has been largely linked to this dental anomaly in the past.

Cusp of Carabelli

Carabelli tubercle, also known as Georg Carabelli's tuberculum anomale, is widely recognized as the cusp of Carabelli by most dental institutions. Georg Carabelli, a Hungarian, originally characterized this dental form in 1842.

The cusps of Carabelli are common on upper molars in people of European origin. These cusps are actually additional ridges that aid in chewing. Also, there are two roots instead of three in teeth with Carabelli's cusps. This morphological variation can take the shape of a fifth cusp or a sequence of grooves, depressions, or pits.

Did Our Ancestors Have the Same Dental Problems as Us?

This may surprise you bigtime, but in many cultures the answer is YES. One example is from a scientific study showing that lesions were discovered on the fossilized teeth of Australopithecus africanus, a human ancestral species. This human being would most likely have felt tooth pain or sensitivity due to the size and position of the lesions. But why did this archaic hominid have dental problems that looked like they were caused by drinking a lot of fizzy drinks today when they actually didn't?

Well, this fascinating comparison could be the answer. Today, rigorous teeth brushing is frequently linked to erosive wear. But since teeth brushing was not yet practiced at that time, eating rough and fibrous foods could have probably caused similar oral abrasion in Australopithecus africanus.

Raw citrus fruits and acidic vegetables were presumably used instead of fizzy drinks, hence lesions were formed. Tubercules (potatoes and the like), for example, are difficult to digest and some are quite acidic, thus they could have been the origin of the erosions.


Ancient teeth are studied by dental anthropologists to learn more about the lifestyles of those who lived before us. The investigation about these teeth has revealed information about the region's history, as well as the behavior, development, food, and health of human beings and their ancestors.

We may learn about the past through our teeth, as well as how environmental circumstances and practices might affect our teeth through time. While our tooth structure may have been formed by our forefathers, we can now improve the way teeth form our bite and take better care of them, thanks to the major advancement in dentistry and orthodontics.

Here at Jungle Roots, we are fully dedicated to providing you with comprehensive dental health care—the kind that gives a solid solution to whatever dental anomaly you might be experiencing. So, whatever interesting tooth formations your teeth may reveal about your ancestry, we are always ready to be your active and fun-filled dental home and help you maintain a healthy smile.

At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.

Call Us - (480) 759-1119

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