April 13, 2020 | Jerry Bergman

Tooth Evolution Confusion Vindicates Creation Dentist


Leading Expert in Fossil Teeth Admits that Tooth Evolution Account Still Eludes Darwinists

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

A new article in the April 2020 Scientific American attempts to explain both the evolution of teeth and why we have so many problems today with our teeth. Has evolution proven the details of the evolution of mammal teeth? A stunning quote by Steve Miraky claims that only ignorant people deny the abundant evidence for tooth evolution:

Don McLeroy, a man who vexed scientists and educators for the first decade of this century in his roles as a member and then chair of the Texas State Board of Education. McLeroy fought against the inclusion of evolution in curricula. …  He was quoted as saying, “Evolution is hooey.” And that “somebody’s got to stand up to experts.” All those views would be irritating if McLeroy’s day job had been as a plumber or an architect or an insurance agent. But what made McLeroy particularly maddening was that he worked on a daily basis with the most abundantly clear evidence of evolution that can be found in the fossil record: he is a dentist.[1]

Is it abundantly clear that evidence for evolution can be found in the fossil record of teeth? This enormous claim led me to read the article to determine if teeth are “the most abundantly clear evidence of evolution that can be found in the fossil record.” The Scientific American article also had me baffled because the author correctly noted the problem with wisdom teeth was diet, not the evolution of the smaller jaw, as was commonly given as the reason for decades:[2]

Dental problems such as crowding and cavities are common in people today. But other species tend not to have such afflictions, nor did our fossil forebears. … Our dental disorders largely stem from a shift in the oral environment caused by the introduction of softer, more sugary foods than the ones our ancestors typically ate.[3]

The theory for the past 150 years has been that since humans and apes have a common ancestor that looked like an ape, obviously our jaw has shrunk during evolution, crowding the teeth which causes the problems with wisdom teeth. This theory was not even mentioned in the Scientific American article reviewed here.

Admitting Good Design of Teeth

Then the reasons for good design were covered in detail in the Scientific American article: “Our teeth have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to be incredibly strong and to align precisely for efficient chewing. They developed these characteristics to function in a specific oral environment.”[4] As no evidence exists for human teeth evolution, creationists respond that all of the evidence is clear: from the first, human teeth were known to be “incredibly strong and aligned precisely for efficient chewing” as is true of most persons who rarely consume “softer, more sugary foods.”[5]

Professor Ungar, the author of the Scientific American article, is a dental anthropologist and evolutionary biologist. He has “spent 30 years studying the teeth of living and fossil humans and countless other species.” From this 30 years of research, he agreed with my 1994 and 1998 articles previously cited, writing “Our fossil forebears did not have impacted wisdom teeth, and few appear to have had gum disease… Most other vertebrate creatures do not have the same dental problems that we do…. They rarely have crooked teeth or cavities.”[6] He added the teeth of modern-day humans

are the hardest parts of our body yet are incredibly fragile. Although teeth endure for millions of years in the fossil record, ours cannot seem to last a lifetime in our mouths. Teeth gave our ancestors dominance over the organic world, yet today ours require special daily care to be maintained. The contradiction is new and is limited largely to industrial-age and contemporary populations. It is best explained by a mismatch between today’s diets and those for which our teeth and jaws evolved [Creationists would use the word designed instead of evolved]. Paleontologists have long understood that our teeth are deeply rooted in evolutionary history. Now clinical researchers and dental practitioners are also starting to take notice.[7]

Next comes an excellent summary of the marvel of our well-designed teeth (the paragraph uses the term “ingenious design”):

Amazing FactsEvolutionary biologists often marvel at the human eye as a “miracle of design.” To me, eyes have nothing on teeth. Our teeth break foods without themselves being broken—up to millions of times over the course of a lifetime—and they do this despite being built from the very same raw materials as the foods they break. Engineers have much to learn from teeth. Their remarkable strength comes from an ingenious structure that gives them the hardness and the toughness to resist the start and spread of cracks. Both properties result from the combination of two components: a hard external cap of enamel made almost entirely of calcium phosphate and an internal layer of dentin, which also has organic fibers that make the tissue flexible.[8]

Not content with these examples of ingenious design, Professor Ungar continues with other examples, noting the

real magic happens on the microscopic scale, though. Think of a single strand of dried spaghetti breaking easily when bent. Now imagine thousands of strands bunched together. Enamel structures known as crystallites are like those strands, each one 1,000th the width of a human hair. They bundle together to form rods of enamel called prisms. In turn, prisms are packed together, with tens of thousands per square millimeter, to form the enamel cap. They run parallel to one another from the surface of the tooth to the underlying dentin, wriggling, weaving and twisting as they go—an elegant configuration that confers impressive durability.[9]

Graphic by David Coppedge

Just-So Story Time

Then comes the evolutionary speculation. Can Darwinists deal with the enormous problems of going from what evolutionists speculate was a fish fin to the marvel of our ingeniously designed teeth? For them, the solution is simple: the impossible becomes probable (with millions of Darwin years), and the probable becomes a sure thing with a few more million years:

This design did not emerge overnight. Nature has been tinkering with teeth for hundreds of millions of years. Recent insights from paleontology, genetics and developmental biology have allowed researchers to reconstruct the evolution of their structure.”[10]

Their construction amounts to lining up tooth samples from “primitive” animals and then assuming, without evidence, that the sequence shows an evolutionary continuum from fish-scale minerals to pre-teeth, then to simple teeth, and eventually to modern mammal teeth:

The … earliest fishes did not have teeth, but many of their descendants had a scaly tail and head armor made from toothlike plates of calcium phosphate. Each plate had an outer surface of dentin, sometimes covered by a harder, more mineralized cap, and an interior pulp chamber that housed blood vessels and nerves. Some fishes’ mouths were rimmed by plates with small nubs or barbs that may have assisted in feeding.[11]

So far in their just-so story we have scales and head armor very similar to that used on many animals today. The next huge step in evolution is to go from head armor plates to teeth. To do this another just-so story is postulated, or thought up as shown by the word “think”:

[P]aleontologists think that these scales were eventually co-opted by evolution to form teeth. In fact, the scales of today’s sharks are so similar to teeth that we lump them together in a category of structures called odontodes. Developmental biologists have shown that shark scales and teeth develop the same way from embryonic tissue, and recently molecular evidence confirmed that they are controlled by the same set of genes.

The similarity of head armor plates and teeth seems logical. It could be construed as constituting evidence of good design throughout both the natural and the human-engineered worlds. But to assume that teeth evolved from head armor is problematic. It is easier and more logical to believe—as evolutionists used to believe—that teeth evolved from jaw gums that gradually thickened until we had teeth.

No evidence was given for this theory of evolution of teeth from body armor, because none exists. It also begs the question: how did body armor evolve? Nonetheless, this story is catching on in spite of lack of evidence. One article opined:

The gnashers inside your mouth may well have originated as fish scales, according to new research that found the same type of cells that human teeth have in the thorny scales of the little skate fish.[12]

[But the] question of whether ancient fish scales eventually moved to the mouth to become teeth, or teeth had their own, separate evolutionary history, has been a long-running debate in biology for a while now… , Recent studies on species such as zebrafish showed scales and teeth developing from distinctly different clusters of cells in fish embryos, pouring cold water on ‘teeth from scales’ theories.[13]

Consequently, this “research on zebrafish and other species has shown scales and teeth developing from different cluster cells in fish embryos, suggests that the two evolved independently.”[14] And the debate goes on, causing Cambridge University Professor Andrew Gillis to conclude that “What does seem clearer is that we’re dealing with several [different] evolutionary paths.”[15] Instead of showing scales evolved into teeth, what we see in the fossil record and the genetic studies is a lack of clear empirical evidence. This lack allows speculation unconstrained by evidence.

Not long ago, Peter Ungar had some very different ideas about teeth evolution. His entire 304-page book on tooth evolution is devoted to almost everything about teeth except their origin and evolution. He spends most of his time with descriptions of teeth and their “ingenious design.” Ungar admits that “The last few years have witnessed a remarkable flurry of research on the origin or origins of vertebrate teeth.” The result of all of this research? “The details of when, where, why, and how teeth first appeared still elude consensus. Indeed, there is not even agreement on the fundamentals.”[16]  Thus, when, where and why teeth first evolved are still unknown after many years of abundant research!

The theory that teeth evolved by co-option of external skin denticles at the margins of the jaws has come under attack almost two decades ago by examinations of the need for functional teeth to survive.[17] This is further complicated by the conclusion that the complexity of teeth, as illustrated above, is far greater then once thought. The small likelihood they could have evolved even once in history, has caused many evolutionists in the past to simply “assume that teeth evolved just once, in the common ancestor of jawed vertebrates.”[18] This is indistinguishable from believing in a miracle.

Once Teeth Existed, Evolution Could Take Off!

Once life had real, functional working teeth, the theory is they existed for eons as “simple pointed structures that could be used to capture and immobilize prey and to scrape, pry, grasp and nip all manner of living things.”[19] Then, once functional teeth existed, natural selection then could improve on them by adding “many innovations …  including changes in their shapes, numbers and distributions, in how they were replaced and in how they attached to the jaw.” [20] The issue of teeth origins is important because

Teeth figured heavily in the origin and early evolution of mammals because of their role in supporting warm-bloodedness (endothermy). Generating one’s own body heat has a lot of advantages, such as enabling one to live in cooler climates and places with more variable temperatures; allowing one to sustain higher travel speeds to maintain larger territories; and providing stamina for foraging, predator avoidance and parental care. But endothermy comes with a cost: mammals burn 10 times as much energy at rest as reptiles of similar size do. Selective pressure to fuel the furnace has fallen on our teeth. Other vertebrates capture, contain and kill prey with their teeth. Mammalian teeth must wring more calories out of every bite. To do that, they must chew [which means they must have good teeth].[21]

Furthermore, once teeth had evolved, many other innovations would have been required before they function properly, or actually function at all. These include brain software, which would have had to learn how to guide chewing movements, in order to “direct and dissipate chewing forces; and position, hold, fracture and fragment food items.” Furthermore, in order “For teeth to function properly during chewing, their opposing surfaces must align to a fraction of a millimeter.”[22] Thus, just having teeth will not help life much until all of these noted changes occur.

The teeth of odontocetes (toothed whales, including dolphins), in addition to being aligned top and bottom for grasping, also are aligned to aid in echolocation by focusing the sound like an antenna. (From Living Waters, by Illustra Media).

Another Requirement: Bacteria

Once we have teeth, bacteria are required for them to function properly. The teeth are populated by billions of up to 700 different bacterial species, most of them beneficial. They “fight disease, help with digestion and regulate various bodily functions,” but others are harmful, such as mutant forms of streptococci and Lactobacillus.[23]

They attack enamel with lactic acid produced during their metabolism. But concentrations of these bacteria are usually too low to cause permanent damage. Their numbers are kept in check by their commensal cousins, the mitis and sanguinis streptococcal groups. These bacteria produce alkalis (chemicals that raise pH), as well as antimicrobial proteins that inhibit the growth of harmful species. Saliva buffers the teeth against acid attack and bathes them in calcium and phosphate to remineralize their surface.[24]

The problem moderns have with teeth is diets rich in carbohydrates and sugars. These feed acid-producing bacteria, lowering oral pH. Mutant streptococci and similar species thrive in this acidic environment and soon begin to swamp beneficial bacteria, further reducing pH leading to a state of dysbiosis – a shift in balance where a harmful species outcompetes those that normally dominate the oral microbiome. As a result, saliva cannot remineralize enamel fast enough to keep up, and the equilibrium between loss and repair is lost. Sucrose is especially problematic because harmful bacteria use it to form the sticky plaque that serve to store sugar to feed them between meals, thus teeth experience longer exposure to acid attack.[25] The problems we have with our teeth, therefore, are not due to evolution, but our modern diets. Dr. Ungar writes:

Dental caries is the most common and pervasive chronic disease in the world. It afflicts more than nine in 10 Americans and billions of people across the globe. Yet over the past 30 years I have studied hundreds of thousands of teeth of fossil species and living animals and seen hardly any tooth decay.[26]


It looks like the maligned Don McLeroy, DDS, turned out to be correct. This article in Scientific American vindicates what he said: “Evolution [of teeth] is hooey.” Unfortunately, neither the facts supporting that conclusion in the article nor my brief response to it here can be heard by students in Kansas schools. Dr. McLeroy and his attempt to “stand up to experts” lost.* Only evolution can be taught.

*Experts in hooey —Ed.


[1] Mirsky, Steve. Scientific American, 2017. Two new books look at evolution from head to below your toes, July 1.
[2] Bergman, Jerry. 1994. “The Wisdom of Saving Wisdom Teeth.”  CRSQ 31:74-77, September; Bergman, Jerry. 1998. “Are Wisdom Teeth (Third Molars) Vestiges of Human Evolution?”  CEN Technical Journal 12(3):297-304, December 1.
[3] Ungar, Peter S. 2020. Why We Have So Many Problems with Our Teeth. Scientific American 322(4):45-49, April, p. 45.
[4] Ungar, 2020, p. 45.
[5] Bergman, 1994, 1998.

Dr Bergman responds to claims of bad design in the human body, including our teeth.

[6] Ungar, 2020, p. 45.
[7] Ungar,, 2020, p. 46.
[8] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[9] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[10] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[11] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[12] Nield, David. 2017. “The Evidence Is Building That Our Teeth Evolved From Fish Skin,” November 24.
[13] Ancient fish scales and vertebrate teeth share an embryonic origin. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/ancient-fish-scales-and-vertebrate-teeth-share-an-embryonic-origin. November 20, 1017; emphasis added.
[14] Nield, David. 2017. “The Evidence Is Building That Our Teeth Evolved From Fish Skin,” November 24.
[15] Nield, David. 2017.
[16] Ungar, Peter S. 2010. Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity.  Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 73.
[17] Smith, Moya Meridith and Cerina Johanson. 2003. Separate evolutionary origins of teeth from evidence in fossil jawed vertebrates. Science 299:1235-1236.
[18] Stokstad, Erik. 2003. Primitive jawed fishes had teeth of their own design. Science 299:1164.
[19] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[20] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[21] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[22] Ungar, 2020, p. 46.
[23] Ungar, 2020, p. 47.
[24] Ungar, 2020, p. 47.
[25] Ungar, 2020, pp. 47-48.
[26] Ungar, 2020, p. 47.

Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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