The Teeth: Their significance in child development, their anomalies and an anthroposophical therapeutic approach

65CoverSmA report from a lecture given by the anthroposophic dentist, Claus Haupt by Katherine Beaven and Caroline Westlake

In an attempt to come to a deeper understanding of the nature of the teeth, we can begin by observing their outer appearance. When looking at a picture of an enlarged molar, the impression of mountain ranges is quite striking, whereas an enlarged picture of the enamel of a tooth looks very similar to basalt pillars. Enamel is an extremely hard substance, with the same strength level as quartz crystals. These observations and others can lead one to the idea that the teeth represent the quality of the earth within us. Mountains are for the earth what teeth are for the human being, one might say. Why don’t newborn babies have teeth? Because they come from heaven where they have no need of them! They have not yet had to develop the forces necessary to deal with earthly substance. And, in old age we begin to lose our teeth again. Our connection to the earth gradually weakens. This weakening can also be seen when gum disease develops at times of life crises or depression, that is, when one cannot find the ground under one’s feet.

Now we can ask: If the teeth are connected with the earth, why do they grow in the head? With our head we draw in the world through our senses, we observe and reflect. As the teeth develop they draw in fluoride and grow into columns. In architecture the column carries the roof of a building and connects it with the earth. This is also a picture of our earthly thinking through which we find our connection with the earth. It is the fluoride process in the teeth which connects us strongly with the mineral element of the earth, and in so doing it advances our earthly thinking and its capacity to measure, count, weigh and calculate. A young child lives in its “heavenly” thinking, which is a pictorial imaginative thinking. To establish our earthly thinking we need our teeth, particularly our adult teeth and the fluoride process which builds them. By looking at the development of the child we can begin to recognize how the development of certain inner capacities coincides with the emergence of individual teeth.

The milk teeth are given to us through inheritance. They have nothing to do with the individual, but rather any anomalies in them can be traced back to parents or grandparents. With the emergence of the first adult teeth (around six years of age), new forces arise in the child such that the child can be experienced as ready for school. These first teeth are the first molars, or sixth tooth in the row from the front. Six is a significant number which has to do with the quality of light. Silica, for instance, is a six-sided structure directly related to light. Light gives us our experience of space. When this tooth emerges, the child comes down into space in their consciousness and so can begin to develop the concepts of size, length etc., and, with this, mathematics. For this reason the emergence of the first molars gives us an important indication in ascertaining school readiness.

The front incisors are the next teeth to emerge. These teeth are strongly developed in rodents: animals which are characteristically nervous and acutely awake in their senses. In the child, one can begin to see something of the child’s personality revealing itself with the emergence of these teeth. They can give us a picture of how this individual stands in relation to the world on the level of the senses. These teeth may be large or small, or each of different sizes. If they are large, one can expect a strong connection to the earth, a strong will to be here. If they vary in size the child might be quite lively and mischievous. If there is a gap between these teeth then the right and left sides of the individual aren’t meeting properly, which indicate that the thinking and feeling life isn’t connecting in a healthy way. If one of the incisors is crooked then one might find that the child is easily offended. This is due to a lack of objectivity in their thinking such that sympathies and antipathies play in too strongly. To address such anomalies one must work with the law of opposites, that is, the feet. Specific jumping exercises in eurythmy have proved very effective.

About a year later the second incisors push through. These show that the child is now strongly anchored on the earth with its life forces. If the emergence of these teeth is delayed the child may have difficulties creating its own boundaries and tend to lose itself in its surroundings. On the other hand, if these teeth are small then it is important that the child isn’t given too much school work requiring the memory as that would severely tax its life forces which are already weak.

At around 10 years old the first premolars emerge, these are the fourth teeth from the middle. These teeth are highly developed in the lion. The lion, with its kingly quality, represents the development of independence. At this time, the child begins to perceive itself as an individual, separate and alone. The strength of a child’s independence can be seen in these teeth. Following this, the second premolars emerge and with them a child’s social feeling develops. There is a shift from egoism to altruism, from “I” to “you.” The canines, or eyeteeth, then emerge at around 12 years of age. These are connected with the development of new soul forces; the child begins to form its own ideals and can have strong feelings about them. If there is a delay in the emergence of these teeth, the forces which would normally be used to push them out can instead manifest as rage. Finally, the second molars emerge at around 13 years of age when the child’s capacity to love develops. These teeth are connected with the realm of inspiration. When we are in love we generally feel inspired!

From this brief sketch we can begin to see how as the second dentition emerges, different aspects of the maturing child are able to develop. The wisdom teeth are not necessary in this process. They generally emerge around the twenty-first year and, with them, the uniquely human capacity to make sacrifices develops. (These teeth are not found in animals.) In times of crises and change it is often the case that people experience problems with their wisdom teeth. These teeth are related to the immune system and can act as sensors on the journey of our life: the lower ones signaling to us whether our deeds are right and the upper ones, the rightness of our thinking.

By looking at the anomalies that arise in the teeth we can achieve insight into the individual. The threefold understanding of the human organism can help us here. Take, for instance, the alignment of the jaws. The upper jaw is connected with the thinking human being and the lower jaw with the willing human being. The space between with the tongue mediates as does the rhythmic system and the feeling human being. In a distal bite (over bite) one can see that the upper jaw dominates and the lower jaw is held back. This person is led by their head and needs to develop their will in their limbs. This is the opposite for the person with a progeny—lower jaw forwards—who tends to be led by their will which goes its own way and can be erratic and spontaneous. In this case, actions are not guided by the person’s thoughts. Both these anomalies can be corrected through specific eurythmy exercises if begun at a young age and practiced diligently.

Another common anomaly is that of overcrowding, which can occur in different regions of the mouth; here again a threefold perspective gives us helpful insight into the various deviations. When the incisors are overcrowded one must look at the individual’s relation to the sense world either in their thinking (upper jaw) or in their actions (lower jaw). When the overcrowding affects the third, fourth and fifth teeth, we must look to the child’s feeling life. For example, the child may be overly impressionable and need help to strengthen their ability to express themselves. Feelings of anxiety may also be prevalent such that there is little “breath” in their soul life. We can counteract this with exercises which support the breathing and encourage a widening of the soul,and, in time, what has been practiced in movement will work back on the teeth.

There are a number of other anomalies and most can be corrected mechanically with braces, but this approach does not address the real weakness which the child has brought with them. By understanding how the teeth are connected with the whole human being a new therapeutic approach is opened up. Eurythmy therapy has proven to be very effective in this respect. It works directly with the life forces and thereby it cannot only straighten teeth and correct the different anomalies, it also works to harmonize the individual as a whole so that their true nature can shine through. In some cases it is of course necessary to employ mechanical devices like braces, but even when used in addition to braces this therapeutic approach is of great benefit. By working on the real weaknesses which manifest in the teeth, the period of orthodontic treatment can be considerably shorted (often halved) and the chances of recidivism becomes negligible.

Claus Haupt considers more in depth what Rudolf Steiner meant when he said that the teeth are the sum of the world mysteries. One key question is: Why are the teeth so individual? Many of the anomalies cannot be explained purely in terms of heredity or environmental factors. How is it possible that the personality is imprinted in the teeth? These questions can lead to the recognition that there is life before birth. On a number of occasions Rudolf Steiner spoke about how the forces which are developed through the limbs undergo a transformation after death in order to build the head in the next life. Thus how one has lived one’s previous life is imprinted in the form of the head and in particular is revealed in the teeth. If one can accept the truth in this idea, the significance of the teeth and how one works with anomalies therapeutically can become a journey to helping an individual come to a more balanced and harmonious place in themselves in order for their true selves to shine through.

The lecture given by Claus Haupt took place at Michael Hall School, Forest Row. Used with permission from the Anthroposophical Medical Newsletter (UK).