Through the matter of teeth, mankind’s innermost horror reveals itself. While the majority of the human skeleton is well-concealed, the skull is allowed to protrude beyond the flesh as two sets of sixteen tombstones, reminding its owner that it exists just beneath their skin. As such, teeth are the ultimate memento mori; a manifestation of death present in the visage of the living.

Unlike the rest of the body, teeth refuse to heal, and exist in a state of constant decay. They weather away like stones on a beach, and while their gaps and tidepools can be filled by a dentist, that which was lost never manages to grow back. A child learns from an early age that they are not permanent, as they are forced to endure the loss of their entire first set, one after the other. The rows which replace them rarely even grow in properly; the last to emerge, the wisdom teeth, often don’t fit within the confines of the jaw.

Why so many overt imperfections? There is a reason for this known to much of nature, yet occluded from mankind by their art of dentistry.  Elephants know this secret perhaps better than any other species, for their leading cause of death is the loss of their teeth. When the last one begins to crumble, they know that the end is coming, as they will soon no longer be able to eat. Their jawbone goes through six complete sets of molars before this happens, but they know what it means when a seventh refuses to emerge. Unlike modern man, they must accept the consequences of this, for it is an aspect of their being that they cannot control.

Much is revealed by this cruel fate. In order for life to move forward, each generation must completely replace the previous, and a failsafe was built into every species to make certain that this happens. For humans and elephants alike, teeth were meant to serve as a sort of countdown clock- a guarantee from the gods that even if nothing else in their environment managed to kill them, a day would still eventually arrive when only bones remained. Through drills and alloys and ceramics, humans were able to excise this message of doom buried within their mouths, but they could not do so without also forgetting why it was there to begin with.

They never managed to rid themselves of the primordial anxiety that came with it, either. Across all cultures and creeds, human beings are haunted by nightmares about the sudden loss of their teeth. Sometimes they come loose, other times they crumble, but always, they make themselves as visible as possible. Most who have them know not what these dreams mean, but the fear follows them back to their waking lives just the same. After all, the countdown to death is still happening somewhere inside them; all their species has managed to do is make it invisible.