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From Incisors to Molars:Tooth Types and Their Function

Teeth and tongue.

Your mouth contains a very efficient food processing system. Every time you take a bite of an apple, your teeth work together to tear, grind and crush the fruit. Each type of tooth performs an important function that is vital to the chewing process. When your teeth work together as a unit, foods are converted to a soft substance that can be easily swallowed. Every time you take a bite of food, these four types of permanent teeth are involved in the chewing process.


Incisors are the flatter teeth located at the front of your mouth in your upper and lower jaws. Your two front teeth and the two corresponding teeth on your lower jaw are called central incisors, while the teeth are either side are called the lateral incisors. These eight teeth help you take an initial bite of a food and cut it into small pieces.


Canines are very useful for tearing food. Also called "eye teeth," these teeth are located next to your lateral incisors. Their pointed shape makes it possible to rip into foods easily. When you close your mouth, your four canines are the first teeth that make contact with each other. If there's an alignment issue with these teeth, your entire bite may be affected.


The first and second premolars are found between your canines and your molars in your upper and lower jaw. The eight premolars, also called bicuspids, tear and crush food and pass it along to the molars. Unlike your incisors and canines, premolars feel a little bumpy when you touch the chewing surfaces. The bumps are actually cusps, raised areas that make crushing food easier, as well as pits and grooves.


Molars, located at the back of your mouth in your upper and lower jaw, are the largest teeth. Their four cusps and multiple pits and grooves give them the ability to grind, crush and chew food.

Initially, you'll have eight molars when your permanent teeth erupt. Nature gifts you with a third set of molars when you reach your teen years. Unfortunately, this gift probably won't be appreciated if you don't have enough room in your mouth for the molars, commonly known as wisdom teeth.

Early man (and woman) needed wisdom teeth to chew tough roots, gnaw on bones and grind stringy raw meat. As the human diet gradually changed, so did the size of the human jaw. Despite the smaller size of the modern jaw, wisdom teeth still attempt to erupt. Pain or damage to nearby teeth or nerves may occur if the wisdom teeth are completely or partially blocked by bone and tissue. Fortunately, removing these four teeth doesn't interfere with your ability to chew. In fact, many people only have eight, rather than 12, molars.

The Role of Primary Teeth

Before your permanent teeth erupted, you relied on your primary, or baby, teeth when you snacked on a handful of Cheerios or enjoyed a sandwich. Although adults have 32 teeth (28 if their wisdom teeth have been extracted), babies and young children only have 20, due to the smaller size of their jaws.

As children's jaws grow, their baby teeth eventually fall out and are eventually replaced with permanent teeth. Chewing isn't the only role of baby teeth. Primary teeth help guide permanent teeth into the correct position and reserve spots for those teeth. If baby teeth are lost prematurely due to a cavity or injury, the permanent teeth may not have enough room to erupt normally, which can cause spacing and crowding issues.

Do You Know Which Teeth Are Most Likely to Experience Tooth Decay?

Although cavities can affect any of your teeth, they're more likely to develop in your premolars and molars. The pits and grooves in these teeth are so small that it's difficult to remove plaque and tiny pieces of food from them. Tooth decay may also occur between teeth if you don't floss regularly or might affect the roots of teeth if you have receding gums. Regular dental exams and cleanings can help you reduce your cavity risk and protect your teeth.

Visiting the dentist every six months is an excellent way to maintain good oral health. If we haven't seen you for a while, give us a call to schedule your next visit.


Colgate: 4 Different Types of Teeth

American Dental Association: Tooth Eruption: Primary Teeth

American Dental Association: Tooth Eruption: The Permanent Teeth, 1/06

Crest: Areas Prone to Dental Cavities

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