Exploding teeth sound horrifying and like something out of a science fiction novel. A Pennsylvania dentist named WH Atkinson wrote an article about three patients that experienced an exploding teeth phenomenon:

  1. The first one was the Reverend DA from Springfield, PA who went through it in 1817. The clergyman was in quite a lot of pain. He finally found relief when his tooth exploded into fragments.
  2. The second patient example was afflicted in 1855. The woman reported one of her canine teeth split in two from front to back. The pain was excruciating until the explosion. Afterwards, relief was immediate.
  3. Lastly, in 1871, another American dentist by the name of J Phelps Hibler treated a young woman. Her toothache ended with the tooth exploding. The deafening sound affected her hearing for a couple of days.

What Causes Exploding Teeth?

Fortunately, there have been no documented cases of exploding teeth since the 1920’s. So, what causes exploding teeth?

In his 1860 article, Atkinson thought one theory could be that a “free caloric” substance builds up in the tooth. This causes an extreme increase of pressure in the pulp of the tooth. While this sounds possible, it was based on obsolete scientific theory. That being the “free caloric” created heat and then, boom! When scientists determined that no “free caloric” substance existed, it put an end to that theory.

Simple tooth decay was a second theory he considered. Gas accumulated inside patients’ teeth and the explosions were the result of the pressure becoming too extreme.

There is some “tooth” or truth to that gas theory due to the poor, sugary diets, and dental materials in use at that time. Dental fillings of the earlier era were made of different metals such as tin, silver, and lead. The mixture of these alloys would create spontaneous electrolysis, which can turn someone’s tooth into something like a small battery. Sometimes, hydrogen gas can be trapped under fillings, and if a patient is a smoker—ignition happened.

The 19th Century dentists didn’t know as much about caries which can cause bacteria and decay. But Atkinson was probably on the right track.

Step into the Future

While cavities are still a problem that most people experience, dentistry has advanced. Not only do dentists know more and use different materials, but individuals also watch their diets more closely. In addition, people brush and floss more frequently. (In fact, some people in the 19th century NEVER thoroughly cleaned their teeth.)

We hope you don’t wait for your tooth to “explode” before you make a dental visit. Regular check-ups and cleanings prevent the big bang! Contact Danville Family Dentistry at 317-745-4400 to make an appointment. We take care of your dental health needs, preventing tooth detonation. We are also on the web at https://www.danvilledentalcare.com

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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.