Born With Teeth: Ill Omen Or Biology?


imageRecently (in 2015), I read a very disturbing story on the internet.  The story was that in a West African country, a woman gave birth to a baby with a tooth. A crowd had gathered round her house to catch a glimpse of the mother and her “evil baby.” The baby was branded a bad omen because he was born with a tooth (known officially as natal tooth)!! I peered at my screen to make sure I was reading right… and I was! The child and the mother are condemned as evil because of that tooth in the baby’s mouth. In fact, the mother was accused of sleeping with a snake, just because of that tooth! I was concerned about that mother and child. It dawned on me that up till today, babies are still seen as evil because they are born with teeth. I thought that line of thinking had changed!

I admit that I believed that notion up until my late teen years. I grew up hearing folktales about “scary” babies born with teeth. Nonetheless, one would have thought that with recent developments in public health, that certain thoughts would have changed. A quick check on my best friend ‘Google’, indicated that the negative beliefs are still contemporary, and they transcend beyond the shores of Africa.

Beliefs…

A plethora of folklore and medical journals show that natal teeth have been in existence forever amongst different cultural heritages. The differences lie in the perceptions of what natal teeth signify. Apparently, Richard the Third was born with natal teeth, and Shakespeare spoke of him in ‘King Henry the Sixth’ saying; “teeth hadst thou in thy head when thou wast born to riguity thou camest to bite the word.” In England, Poland and France, babies born with natal teeth are viewed as potential strong soldiers and conquerors. In Malaysian communities, they are seen as blessings. To the contrary, in some African countries, babies with natal teeth are seen as curses. Some are left in bushes to die as it is believed that they will bring bad omen to all they come in contact with. Contemporary anecdotes have it that some parents literally yank natal teeth out, prior to showing their babies to other family members. The same bad omen belief applies in China, although I couldn’t find any documentation of what happens to such babies. In India, babies born with teeth are also seen as bearers of misfortunes.

The Biology Bits…

Natal teeth is uncommon and has no geographical boundaries to its occurrence. They are different from neonatal teeth which grow within 30 days of birth. There’s is no scientific consensus on what causes the eruption of natal teeth in some babies. Most studies posit that it is genetically linked. Some contend that it is caused by hormonal imbalances, while others point towards premature formation of bone synthesis in the mass of tissue from which teeth eventually erupts. Natal teeth are also linked to certain syndromes including: Hallermann-Streiff syndrome, Soto syndrome, Pierre Robyn syndrome, and Ellis-van Creveld syndrome. They are usually attached loosely to the gum by soft tissue. They have no root and pose No Spiritual Risks to the child and parents. The only risk to the child is where the tooth is wobbly, there’s a risk of the baby swallowing it and choking. It could also affect breastfeeding, if it hurts mum.

The advice is to let medical practitioners make culturally sensitive informed decisions. Dentists are there to do their job.

My Thoughts…

I still wonder what happened to that baby and mother on the news. I hope they are safe. It’s very worrying that babies are still condemned due to societal ignorance. The idea of suffixing uncommon biology with adverse supernatural explanations could be damaging, and sometimes fatal. Please help in educating others on natal teeth. Explain that it is pure biology not a curse. A little bit of education is all it takes to save lives.

6 thoughts

  1. The African society still have this strong believe of natal teeth being a very serious issue and is mosyly associated with misfortunes and badluck.
    It is viewed as a satanic occurence and nobody wishes suvh to happen in the society as it is termed dark days in present lights..
    Both the kid and mother are associated with evil and may all be killed or abandoned in the forest for them to die.

    1. It aches my heart to see some Africans still stick to their old beliefs even at this jet age. When a child is born with a cleft, a tooth, defect or any form of abnomality that child is labelled as evil re-incarnate. While some Africans especially the educated ones have discarded this old belief, the uneducated ones are stuck with it.There should be grassroot campaigne to dis-abuse the minds of those uneducated ones that no child born should be labelled as evil.

  2. Sad some cultures still label babies born with teeth evil, I thought such beliefs would have been eroded by civilisation. Thanks for the expert insight.

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