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Of the nearly 40 types of fiber constructions holding the body together, only four are named after their discovers: Mullers, Mahaim, Purkinje and Sharpey's fibres. The term Sharpey's fibres actually refers to two types of fibers in the body. One is part of the microscopic web holding the teeth to the gums. The other helps the body resist strain in the cranium and down the spine.
It was not until the middle of the 19th century that microscopes had developed to the point where someone could see this phenomenon. It happened to be the physiologist William Sharpey, a friend of pioneering biologist Charles Darwin. Sharpey, a Scottish academician and member of the prestigious Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, came across the mineral deposits in 1846, noticing their thread-like appearance in various parts of the body. The discovery added another piece to the puzzle of human scientific understanding.
Within the mouth, at the ends of the gum's periodontal ligaments, is the first group of Sharpey's fibres. These act as bridges to anchor the mineralized, calcium-rich material of the teeth and sockets to the collagen-based tissue of the gums. This type of connective tissue is also referred to as perforating, or bone fibres, that firmly attach to the cementum coating of each tooth as well as the alveolar bones of each tooth socket. The overall effect is a rubber cement that holds each tooth in each socket of the jaw.
Sharpey found these rubbbery, mineral-rich fibers connecting the various bones of the skull, too. The tissue cementing the spine's various vertebrae also have Sharpey's fibres, working in concert with nerve fibers and blood vessels to keep the spine straight and supported. Scientists hypothesize that Sharpey's fibres have not only a rooting effect, but also a shock-absorbing quality. They are most often found in the highest concentrations where the body's bones meet the greatest amount of stress.
This web of tiny ligaments is often compared to a matrix, which overlaps in every direction to provide an overall cohesion or adherence with the larger surroundings. The Sharpey's fibres are near the center of a wide web of various types of connective tissue. Each cluster of fibers, in turn, is fed and controlled by an equally complex matrix of nerve and blood pathways. In the mouth alone, several other fibers contribute to keeping the teeth strongly anchored: alveolar crest fibers, horizontal fibers, interradicular fibers, periapical fibers and oblique fibers.