There's a folktale found in several different cultures about vagina dentata — Latin for "toothed vagina" — in which a woman's vagina is said to contain teeth. The implication, of course, is that a man having sex with the woman might injure or even lose his member. It even got screen time in a 2007 black comedy. But could there actually be teeth in a vagina?
Sort of. Imagine a woman doubled-over with pain in her pelvis and lower back. A visit to her physician reveals a mass on her left ovary, about the size of a clementine. A follow-up X-ray shows something even more surprising: a dense lump within the tumor.
The tumor has teeth.
As strange as it seems, it's not uncommon for tumors to sprout teeth. Teeth most commonly form in certain types of tumors or cysts. Ovarian dermoid cysts, also known as mature teratoma, make up 20 percent of all ovarian tumors. These cysts form from an ovary's germ cells, powerhouse cells that are the precursor to all types of human tissue. Germ cells power the growth of all a person's parts. Sometimes, as in the case of a cyst, these cells bloom into a chaotic mass of human parts, growing bone, hair, skin and teeth instead of an organized and functioning fetus [source: Hamilton].
Most of the time, dermoid cysts are harmless and are surgically removed. Occasionally, the cysts can cause discomfort. Occurrences like these may have prompted a few old wives' tales about teeth appearing in vaginas. The reality is that it's incredibly unlikely to come across a vagina in need of dental work. It's likely that the folk tales are meant to be cautionary, relying on castration fears to discourage men from raping or simply having sex with unknown women [source: Rankin].
Toothed teratoma tumors have been found growing in other unexpected places, including an Indian woman's eye and an American boy's foot. However, they aren't the only types of tumors in which teeth have been found. An infant boy had brain surgery to remove a craniopharyngioma tumor, and his doctors found the tumor housed several teeth. What made the discovery noteworthy for physicians was that the tumor was formed of only one type of cell, rather than the multiple layers of germ cells capable of growing into a variety of body parts, from internal organs and skin to bones and teeth [source: Bachai].
- Bachai, Sabrina. "Doctors Find Teeth in Baby's Brain Tumor, Plus Other Strange Places Teeth Have Been Found." Medical Daily. Feb. 28, 2014. (Jan. 25, 2015) http://www.medicaldaily.com/doctors-find-teeth-babys-brain-tumor-plus-other-strange-places-teeth-have-been-found-270380
- Beaty, Narlin Bennet and Edward Ahn. "Adamantinomatous Craniopharyngioma Containing Teeth." New England Journal of Medicine. Feb. 27, 2014. (March 5, 2015) http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm1308260
- Hamilton, Chad et al. "Cystic Teratoma." Medscape. June 5, 2014. (Jan. 25, 2015) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/281850-overview
- Rankin, Lissa. "What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend." 2010. https://books.google.com/books/about/What_s_Up_Down_There.html?id=2ybaNhKqGmwC