Morphology of Teeth

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By: James Henderson

In a phenomenological science one looks for the whole in the parts. Thus, Goethe in his work on the metamorphosis of plants saw in the leaf the potential for the whole plant. In the study of mammals Wolfgang Schad (Man and Mammals, Waldorf Press, Garden City, NY; 1971) saw the mor­phology of the mammal in terms of a threefold system encompassing nerve-sense processes, metabolic processes and rhythmic processes. With abun­dant examples and clarifying detail he showed how the rodent, for example, exemplifies a nerve-sense animal. With its small body, rich foods, and nervous disposition it stands in stark contrast to a metabolic type animal, such as a cow, with its large body, poor nutri­tion, and placid dispo­sition. The carnivore, with its size, food sources, and behavior stands between the ungulate and the rodent.

However, this typology is no mere mechanical ap­plication but a complex of interweaving influences. A rodent can be seen as pri­marily a nerve-sense animal, but it can have secondary metabolic influences and so we have an animal such as the beaver—a metabolic rodent, as it were. On the other hand, a more nerve-sense ungulate would be smaller, more active—like a gazelle.

Schad describes how in the human these three organizing processes are more or less in balance, unlike the mammals where one of the three influences is more domi­nant. In ex­amining the morphology and physiology of the human being this threefold system is very useful. While the head is the primary seat for the nerve-sense processes, the other processes are secondarily manifest. The head also has within it rhythmic processes (the nose and nasal passages) and metabolic processes (the mouth with its jaws and teeth). We can examine the mouth and its structures even more closely and find a further refinement of this threefold system.

It may help to look at the polarities in the animals first. The rodent, being a nerve-sense animal, characteristically has incisors that continually grow. Its nervous activity is inces­santly di­rected to­ward gnawing in an ef­fort to wear down the incisors, which would otherwise grow to such an extent that the jaws would be sealed shut. The rodent has no canine teeth at all, and a row of similar molars.

The ungulate varies, depending upon how strongly it lives in the meta­bolic polarity. A cow, a very metabolic animal, has no upper incisors, and no canines at all, but a large set of well-developed mo­lars, nicely suited for grind­ing up its fodder.

The carnivore, existing between the polarities of the rodent and ungulate, has all three types of teeth, but accentuated into threefold pointed or slashing edges suited to its life of hunting and flesh eating.



When we look at the situation with the human we see something different. None of the tooth types predominate. They are all in a kind of balance, an un­differentiated state where no particular road of adaptation has been taken. This balance which we see in human teeth is indicative of the human form in general which is in balance, and not accentuated to any of the three processes seen in the animals.

James Henderson has been teaching biol­ogy at the Green Meadow Waldorf School for 19 years. He holds a M.S. in biology from Eastern Michigan University. He has published several articles on evolution theory and is currently pur­suing the translation of German articles and books on phenomenological approaches to biology.

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