As well as being our first piece of ‘equipment’ for chewing and eating our food, the role of our teeth goes beyond just chowing down on our dinner. Healthy teeth play a critical role in the way we speak, move our mouth, and - of course - our ability to smile and show emotion.
Teeth are made of a material called enamel, which is the hardest substance in the human body. The different types of teeth we have in our mouths play different roles and help us perform different actions.
Read on to discover more about the four types of teeth found in humans and the functions they offer.
The four different types of teeth
As humans, we have two sets of teeth during our lifetime - our baby teeth and our adult teeth.
Baby teeth develop when we’re still in the womb. In our infant years, these teeth help shape the way our jaws grow, enable us to chew food properly, and allow us to speak our first words. Most children start out with 20 primary baby teeth - 10 on the top and 10 on the bottom.
Eventually, these baby teeth are replaced with 32 permanent adult teeth - 16 on the upper jaw and 16 on the lower jaw.
We have four different types of teeth, with each type providing a different function for the way we eat and chew. We have:
- 8 incisors
- 4 canines
- 8 premolars
- 12 molars (including 4 wisdom teeth, although not everyone has these)
Let’s take a look at what each type of tooth is designed to do.
Your incisors are your front-most teeth, with four located on the top of your mouth and four on the bottom. These are the teeth that appear first in young children.
Incisors are designed to cut into food, which they do with amazing precision. Next time you bite into a sandwich, look for the lines left by your incisors, which form an arc.
You’ll find your canines located on each side of the incisors. With their slightly pointed shape, they resemble the fangs of a dog, hence the name ‘canine’. Canines are sometimes called cuspids or “eye teeth” because they’re situated directly below the eye sockets.
With their sharp ends, canines are the perfect weapon for ripping food apart. They work in conjunction with your incisors - and without canines, you’d have a hard time tearing into harder foods like crusty bread or cooked meats.
Found between the canines and the molars in the back of your mouth, your premolars have two pointed cusps on their biting surface, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as bicuspids (bi meaning two).
As your canines and incisors have already taken care of cutting and tearing your food, the premolars are considered transitional teeth - they guide food from the canines to the molars at the back of the mouth for chewing into smaller pieces.
Molars are located in the back of your mouth, with three on each side of the upper and lower jaw. During your teen or early adult years, a further four molars - called wisdom teeth - will come through, although this doesn’t happen for everyone.
Your molars are designed to grind up your food into tiny particles so it’s easy to swallow. Molars have the most upper surface area of any teeth and are well-anchored into the jaw, so they can handle the constant force of chewing, grinding and clenching.
Keep them healthy with a dental check up
Now that you’re aware of just how impressive and important your teeth are, be sure to keep them clean and healthy by practising good oral hygiene, including brushing twice a day and flossing once per day.
And of course, a regular check up and clean with your dentist will help to keep them in good condition, avoid problems before they occur, and treat issues as soon as they arise rather than letting them get worse.
Need to make an appointment at your local National Dental Carepractice? Find your nearest dental clinic and make a booking for a check up today.