Edge browser users:
To download Word, Excel or PowerPoint files please right-click on the file you wish to download, and select 'Save link as...'

Dental folklore

​Our collection includes some fascinating books on beliefs and superstitions regarding teeth and dental work. A few of these are described on this page.

The dental folklore book list has our complete range of titles. 


All items are available for BDA members to borrow (unless marked as reference).


Email library@bda.org or call 020 7563 4545 to request an item.


Featured folklore - Teeth and personality

In dental folklore the position and appearance of your teeth can say a lot about you. From good fortune, to the likelihood that you will travel and your ability to carry a tune...


Tooth position

In many traditions the positioning of the teeth - and particularly the front teeth - is very important.


In Teeth and superstition Kai Huntstadbråten tells us:


Persons with wide spaces between their teeth will travel far and wide in the world.


Contrariwise, according to Tooth and toothache in Norwegian folklore, those with teeth close together will remain close to home.


In Folklore of the teeth, a belief from the USA asserts:


If your teeth lie one on the other, You will always live with your mother.


Similar beliefs have been recorded in Germany, in Switzerland, and in parts of the United Kingdom.


Physiognomy and personality


Physiognomy, or the theory that a person’s character could be deduced based upon facial characteristics – popularized in the late 18th century by Johann Kaspar Lavater and others – also noted the importance of the teeth.


Lavater, in his Essays on physiognomy asserts:


Whoever leaves his teeth foul and does not attempt to clean them, certainly betrays much of the negligence of his character, which does him no honour.

As are the teeth of man, that is to say, their form, position, and cleanliness (so far as the latter depends upon himself) so is his taste.


In Hong Kong, tradition holds that those with crowded teeth are likely to quarrel with others, whilst in Norway such individuals are apparently prone to be stingy.


Should you find yourself in Italy, beware—folklore maintains that those who are unlucky enough to have "teeth that are set close together" are doomed to suffer a life of disaster.


If you possess teeth that are "so far apart that a quarter can be placed between them" you may be considered luckier – a Canadian superstition holds that such individuals are destined to be very rich.



To find out more about teeth and personality try the following:

Download this featured folklore.

Download past featured folklore on animals.

Download past featured folklore on toothache cures.

"Tooth fairy" BDJ cover series

Read a sequence of tweets on this 2016 cover series.

Books in focus

Here are just a few of the folklore books available for loan.


Anthony B Smithers

From Empirics to a Science: A Compendium of Dental Folklore and Early Dental History 
Pen Press, 2011

Email library@bda.org to borrow this book.

Covering dental folklore – including toothache remedies, dental myths and superstitions – along with aspects of early dental history. Each chapter gives an overview of a different topic, combining to form a diverse anthology.


Among the topics covered are:


Early oral hygiene practices | the introduction of anaesthesia | dental prosthetics | the life of Saint Apollonia | dental quotes and jokes | the history of tooth filling | Doc Holliday | teeth in literature.

OfMice-cover.jpgJoseph G Carter, William J Carter

Of Mice and Tooth Fairies: Shed Tooth Customs from Around the World 
University of North Carolina, 1990

Email library@bda.org to borrow this book.

Ever wondered what the Cherokee Indian or Japanese version of the tooth fairy is? Of Mice and Tooth Fairies documents superstitions on shed teeth from every corner of the world.

Folkloreteeth-cover-web.jpgLeo Kanner

Folklore of the Teeth
MacMillan, 1928

Email library@bda.org to borrow this book.

Covering dental related rituals from ancient times up until the early twentieth century, when the book was published. The many interesting customs shared here include toothache cures, charms, tooth decoration and tooth removal.

Samson_Edward.jpgEdward Samson

Holy Tooth
John Wright & Sons, 1958
Email library@bda.org to borrow this book.

The story of the tooth relic at the Dalada Maligawa – the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka which supposedly houses one of the canine teeth of the Buddha. The tooth is worshipped as a sacred relic and Edward Samson charts its journey over two thousand years from the mouth of the Buddha to its resting place in the magnificent temple at Kandy.

2668224.jpgMary Beith

Healing Threads: Traditional Medicines of the Highlands and Islands
Birlinn, 2005

Email library@bda.org to borrow this book.


Covering all aspects of folk medicine, including cures for toothache and other dental conditions, Mary Beith writes about the rich and fascinating history of Gaelic traditional medicine. The second half of the book consists of a materia medica covering healing waters, wells and springs, the use of stone and metal, animals, charms and incantations and herbs.

Folklore packages of articles

We have a package of journal and magazine articles available for loan.


Folkore in Dentistry