Rituals Surrounding Teeth

Ritual - An activity done in accordance with social customs or normal protocols

Modern Rituals

Rituals related to the teeth have persisted throughout human history and have taken many forms. These rituals are often important for acceptance into society and widely known within a culture.

Multiple people brushing their teethIn modern society, our rituals are more focused on cultural norms and overall health, rather than rites of passage. For example, most of us brush our teeth for two minutes twice a day and attend regular dental appointments. While these activities may not be the most exciting activity, we often do them simply because we feel that we should. Similar to dental rituals in the past, it is believed that if the ritual is not completed something bad may happen.

Horace Miner parodies these modern rituals in his book Body Ritual Among the Nacirema:

“The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a  small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.”

Miner highlights the cultural traditions Americans have surrounding their teeth from an outsider perspective to show how these acts are not common in all cultures. 

Ancient Rituals

Ritualistic extractions were common in ancient tribal societies and served many functions. Many Aboriginie tribes would extract teeth to ensure rebirth and protect the extracted teeth from rival tribes. Some tribes would even hold ceremonies to remove the life from the teeth and sever their magical connection to a person. Even after the life force was removed, these teeth were kept away from any other magic so that it could not affect the people they were extracted from. 

Ancient tribal societies, like the Warramunga and Chingali of Australia, heavily associated the teeth with rain.  While there is still no confirmed explanation for this connection, elderly members of the tribes may have been able to sense the pressure changes before it rains in their teeth as well as other joints. Changes in pressure can affect the fluids and connective tissue in joints, leading to pain or discomfort. Excessive pain in the teeth may have been an indicator that an extraction was due. A ritual tooth extraction was performed in order to end the wet season. The extracted tooth was then discarded into a watering hole to prevent rainfall.

Rituals Involving Baby Teeth

Ritualistic extractions were common in ancient tribal societies and served many functions. Many Aboriginie tribes would extract teeth to ensure rebirth and protect the extracted teeth from rival tribes. Some tribes would even hold ceremonies to remove the life from the teeth and sever their magical connection to a person. Even after the life force was removed, these teeth were kept away from any other magic so that it could not affect the people they were extracted from. 

Ancient tribal societies, like the Warramunga and Chingali of Australia, heavily associated the teeth with rain.  While there is still no confirmed explanation for this connection, elderly members of the tribes may have been able to sense the pressure changes before it rains in their teeth as well as other joints. Changes in pressure can affect the fluids and connective tissue in joints, leading to pain or discomfort. Excessive pain in the teeth may have been an indicator that an extraction was due. A ritual tooth extraction was performed in order to end the wet season. The extracted tooth was then discarded into a watering hole to prevent rainfall.