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The usual dental format inside everyone’s mouth as a child is an array of 20 primary teeth, commonly referred to as our baby teeth. By the time we are fully grown, most adults have 32 teeth, at least before the wisdom teeth are commonly removed. These two sets of teeth are all we grow throughout a lifetime and make up a major aspect of our dental anatomy.
Not all of our teeth are the same and each one serves its own function in our mouth depending on its unique characteristics and placement. Although every tooth consists of a crown and a root, as well as enamel and dentin, they can each be distinguished from one another and have their own names.
Dental Anatomy Identification & Nomenclature
Teeth that are found in our upper jaw are referred to as maxillary. Those found in our lower jaw are called mandibular. The individual teeth are divided into four different classes: incisors, canine, premolars and molars. There is both a maxillary and mandibular set for each class of tooth. Only an adult set of teeth has premolars – they are not found in the primary teeth, which consist of only incisors, canines and molars.
Types of Teeth
- Incisors: The four teeth in the middle on both our upper and lower jaws, making 8 incisors total. They are sharp and used for tearing into food. These teeth are equipped with an incisal ridge.
- Canines: The pointy teeth on each side of the incisors, which are often referred to as cuspids. We have 4 canines total. They are also used for tearing at food and are sharper than the incisors, forming into a single cusp, or a large sharp point.
- Premolars: The premolars are the next teeth after the canines, appearing before the molars in the back of our mouth. There are 8 altogether. They are shaped into two cusps, or two sharp points, making them sometimes referred to as bicuspids. They both crush and tear at food when we chew.
- Molars: These are the 8 flat teeth in the very back of our mouths, shaped to grind at our food while we chew. They are shaped with several smaller cusps for these purposes.
- Wisdom teeth: Our wisdom teeth, also often called third molars, can be the most troublesome of the teeth. They usually do not erupt through the gums until around 18 years of age, and they frequently push at the other teeth in such a way that requires them to be surgically removed.
When we smile, the two most visible teeth are usually the maxillary central incisors, which appear front and center and are larger than our mandibular incisors. They are the widest teeth, appearing more square than the other teeth. When the central incisors first erupt from the gums, they have three round bumps on their ridges called mammelons. The enamel of the mammelons gradually erode away with time thanks to the friction and wear of eating.
The lateral incisors grow right alongside the central incisors.
The long and sharp canine teeth are shaped into a single cusp, making them closely resemble prehensile teeth in the mouths of carnivorous animals. We have two maxillary canines and two mandibular canines. They are also sometimes referred to as eye teeth, for aligning directly under our eyes spatially. If someone’s canines are particularly sharp, some may even jokingly refer to them as fangs.
The maxillary canines are in our upper jaw and are also quite visible when we smile. They are the longest teeth in the human mouth when measured from the tip of the root to the tip of the cusp.
The mandibular canines are located on our lower jaw. Although they are not usually as long as the maxillary canines, they are still the longest tooth in our mandibular arch.
Formed into two sharp cusps, the first premolars are also responsible for a bit of tearing while we chew. They are the first teeth located right after our canine teeth. As well as having two cusps, they also are shaped into two roots underneath the crown, this part hidden within our gums.
The second premolars are very similar in shape and function to the first premolars, also shaped into two cusps and divided into two roots. However, the cusps are not as sharp and they are a little flatter, much like the molars that follow next.
Molars are the teeth in the very back of our mouths. They have more cusps than the rest of our teeth, however the cusps are flatter and not as sharp, making them most suited for grinding and crushing food while we chew. There is some variety to the overall shape and number of cusps when it comes to molars, and this can change from person to person. The increased number of grooves in these teeth often make them more susceptible to cavities, as there are more places in between the cusps for bacteria to eat away at the enamel.
The first molars are the first flat teeth in the back of our mouths after our premolars. They usually are shaped into four cusps, two on each side of the tooth. Some first molars can even have a fifth cusp, which is referred to as the Cusp of Carabelli.
The second molars are the teeth in the very back of our mouths before our wisdom teeth come in or after our wisdom teeth are removed. They are usually shaped into four round and flat cusps.
Some individuals may never even see their third molars – also known as wisdom teeth. If they ever do erupt through the gums without being surgically removed, then it can be seen that they closely resembled the other molars. They generally are the last teeth to erupt through the gums, usually appearing between the ages of 17 to 25. They are prone to impaction, which is when the formation of the other teeth in the arch prevent them from fully erupting. Due to this issue, they are often surgically removed around the time of eruption.
Dental Anatomy Wrap Up
Dental anatomy sounds complicated, but it comes down to a few basic elements. Our teeth may appear to be similar and rather plain, but each one has a specific purpose and function. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or contact us using our contact page.