I went to the Surgeon’s Hall in Edinburgh, which is the original home of the Royal College of Surgeons. These days it contains three creepy museums on the history of surgery, pathology, and dentistry. It gave me lots of ideas relating to my indie thesis, but more on that later.

Rubber tooth forms, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

Right now, teeth! The Museum of Dentistry was all about collections of things. Sets of antique drill bits, sets of ornate knives, sets of tooth brushes, sets of teeth. I’ve always liked collections of many objects that are similar but not exactly the same.

I remember at the Mendel Museum of Genetics in the Czech Republic, they had all these framed collections showing different phenotypes— 64 similar leaves arranged in a matrix, 25 drawings of similar feathers, 4 types of pea plants in square garden plots. I almost had a seizure, from glee.

Rubber tooth forms, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

I don’t know exactly why I enjoy similar sets so much, but I suspect you’ll just know what I mean. Similar-but-not-the-same objects are so common in nature, and so commonly considered beautiful, that there are whole design books on the topic. (My favourite discussion is in Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building. Repetition with variation was a big part of his rationale for pattern languages.)

A set of teeth, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

So these dentistry sets would have made my day no matter what, but the teeth were off the scale. I had never thought about it, but a mouthful of teeth is a similar-but-not-the-same set to start with, and then setting up grids of multiple mouthfuls in different sizes… my mind reels.

Crown former set, from the Museum of Dentistry in Edinburgh

Furthermore, some of these tooth sets— which were blanks meant for casting false teeth— were arranged in cases. They were a lot like type cases— if I had a tooth case I would definitely keep the top teeth in the upper case and the bottom teeth in the lower case, like letters in a printing font. Thinking about uppercase and lowercase teeth has multiplied my affection for my mouth, because now it is not just a mouth but a printing press for bite marks.