Ok, like everyone else, COVID social distancing has ‘forced’ me to catch up on a really long list of must watch TV and movies. Top of that list for me was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I know, I know…it’s like two years old, but it’s free on HBO so maybe some of you will find a new, or renewed interest in the topic.
As a dentist I was blown away by Freddy’s explanation of what gave him such an amazing voice. To my amazement, he attributed his 4 octave range to having 4 extra incisors. He believed that gave him a larger palate and improved resonance. Now, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so I have no idea of what the power of resonance can do for a singer, but I am a scientist, and a dentist, and I know a thing or two about teeth and mouths.
Reports of what Freddy’s actual dental condition was, aren’t consistent. Even as a dental ‘insider’, I can’t just summon his X-rays to come up with a diagnosis. But, we can be reasonably certain that based on his account, he had a condition called mesiodens – or extra front teeth. Specifically extra central incisors, and studies show that up to 2% of the population have this condition. It’s called supernumerary teeth (which can happen anywhere in the mouth), and it affects men 2x more than women. (1,2)
Mesiodens usually presents as a single extra tooth, but Freddy reports having had 4 extras. Needless to say that would be extremely rare and unique. Supernumerary teeth usually need to be surgically removed, because they’re usually impacted and can alter the normal path of eruption of the permanent teeth. Likely what happened in Freddy’s case.
Reports are consistent though about Freddy being very self conscious of the appearance of his smile. As a kid he had the unfortunate nickname ‘Bucky’, which, of course, he hated. The complex was in part responsible for his iconic mustache, used to cover his obvious underbite. Much to his credit, even though he felt the way he did about his teeth, he never got them fixed because he feared it would limit his ability to sing.
While he credited the extra teeth for changing the shape of his mouth and allowing for better vocals, some very interesting research out of the UK suggests otherwise. Turns out his gifted vocal range was likely due to his uncanny ability to use a larger part of his vocal cords than most of us do. When he sang, he was able to recruit a part of his larynx called ‘false vocal cords’ or vestibular folds (3). Some people have the unique ability to utilize these structures (they even had someone swallow a camera to see it happen in action) – allowing for that distinctive low end growl to reach soaring tonal heights in just a stanza.
Either way, regardless of what made him such a unique musical figure, I don’t care. Freddy Mercury lived as a true performer, touching the lives of millions, and always pushing the envelope. I’m lucky to have been a fan, still am, and always will be. The show will go on.
Keep smilin’ everybody,
- Mesiodens – Diagnosis and Management of a Common Supernumerary Tooth, Kathleen Russell, Magdalena Folwarczna, J Can Dent Assoc 2003, 69(6):362-6
- Familial Occurence of Mesiodens, Heddie O. Sedano, Robert Gorlin, School of Dentistry University of Minnesota
- Freddy Mercury – acoustic analysis of speaking fundamental frequency, vibrato and subharmonics, Christian T. Herbst, et al. Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology Vol 42, 2017