Let’s face the facts – our teeth, which we have had for quite some time and will continue to be a part of who we are for a long time. Each and every day in between we will subject them to meals and foods of all kinds all the while taking what they do for granted. Although today’s post doesn’t promise to make you a tooth fanatic, it does aim to shed some light on the various types of teeth us humans have in our mouths and the specific, unique and truly effective ways they go about their chewy business. The following is the AllHeals guide to your teeth.
As with most things, it is best to begin with some background and history. Human teeth as we know them have not always appeared as we know them today. In fact, over the past 2.5 to 5 million years, hominid teeth and jaws have decreased in size significantly. This change is due in very large part to dramatic changes in food preparation techniques, primarily the use of fire to cook meat. As many can imagine, a tenderly cooked piece of meat is much easier to tear and chew than it is before being cooked. The effective eating of raw meat requires much sharper and larger teeth such as those seen in the mouths of endearing creatures like tigers and sharks. Early human teeth and the jaw and muscle structure around them were much larger, akin to our great ape counterparts that walk the earth today. Early human canine teeth (more on them later) were larger and dramatically pointed, evolving over time to be uniform in size with surrounding teeth. Food preparation in concert with dietary changes have eventually led us to where we are today, the teeth you know and love. Chewing, fancily known as mastication is essential to good health as the breakdown of foods in our mouth increases their surface area and makes the absorption of nutrients easier during digestion.
So without further ado, let’s get to it. I will begin from the front and center (midline) and work my way outwards and towards the back. Teeth at the top of your moth (upper jaw) are called maxillary teeth while those on the bottom (lower jaw) are known as mandibular teeth. Photos and diagrams have been added to maximize the learning experience.
The front four teeth on both the bottom and top of your mouth are known as incisors. As mentioned above, these teeth are used for cutting along with shearing and gnawing various types of foods. This isn’t terribly difficult to imagine as these teeth are sharp as soon as they come in (those who have had a toddler bite their finger can attest). These are usually the first teeth that babies get, appearing on average at 6 months of age and replaced with permanent fixtures at age 8. Incisors are longer than they are wide and get a lot of work on a daily basis in chewing things like apples, carrots and other items of similar consistency. The diagram below illustrates where our incisors are relative to the real estate of our gum line. The inner most incisors are ingeniously referred to as central incisors while the outside ones are known as lateral incisors.
Located outside your mandibular and maxillary incisors on both the top and bottom of your mouth are the canine teeth. As many will quickly realize, canine is derived from the Latin word canis which means dog. This is due to the fact that these teeth are by far the most animalistic looking in our human mouth. Our four canine teeth are arguably the most important teeth we have as they assist both the incisors and premolars (more on them below) in chewing. Canine teeth are by far the longest teeth in our mouth and are the best suited of all teeth for the function of holding and tearing meat and other tough foods. They do so by being pointed, meaning they have a single cusp or elevated point. Their long pointed nature makes them ideally suited to withstand the impact of chewing food (mastication) as much as we do. Dental professionals often refer to this group of teeth as the ‘cornerstones’ of our mouth because they naturally separate the incisors and premolars and are located as the third tooth from the midline (exact middle) of our mouths. The permanent canine teeth usually erupt in the following order: mandibular (lower jaw) canines appear between the ages of 9-10 with the roots forming fully by 13. Maxillary (upper jaw) canines, which are longer and wider appear between 12-13 and have fully formed roots by age 15.
The second to last grouping of teeth in your mouth are the premolars. As you move past your canines, these are the next two teeth in all four quadrants of your mouth (upper and lower left, upper and lower right). These 8 teeth are the first of our bicuspid teeth (two cusps) meaning these teeth have two elevated sides. A quick once over with your tongue along your tooth line will help you identify these teeth very quickly. Premolars are known as transitional teeth as they function to move food particles from the front of your mouth towards the back during the act of chewing. Possessing qualities of both the canine and molar (more on them below) teeth. Their wider shape and size serve them well as they begin the process of grinding food into smaller pieces for digestion.
The last group of teeth in our mouth are known as molars. Cleverly preceded by the premolars, our molars serve one purpose and one purpose only; to grind our food into pieces that are ideal for digestion. The name molar is derived from the Latin word mola which translates to millstone. All in all, we have 12 molars, three in each quadrant of our mouth. The third and final molar in each quadrant of your mouth are known as wisdom teeth. These late blooming teeth appear at the age of 20 or so for most and are commonly removed via a routine procedure due to their tendency to crowd the other teeth. Molars have four to five cusps and represent our most unique and complicated teeth.
As you can see, our teeth serve unique roles while working together to effectively chew food. Starting with the incisors and canines, we tear and gnaw foods, eventually moving it deeper into our mouths. There our premolars act to grind and break down the food further in order to make it easily digestible. Good oral health habits and healthy teeth do their part to ensure strong digestion and health. Included below is one of the best comprehensive tooth guides we were able to find online. We sincerely hope it helps you learn your way around your mouth.