Incisor Insight: Types of Teeth and What They Do

dentist

Dental hygiene is something that is pretty basic. We all know that in order to have bright, healthy smiles we must ensure that we brush our teeth regularly, avoid sugary snacks and carbonated drinks, and avoid bad habits such as grinding our teeth or biting our nails. A regular visit to the dentist will also ensure good oral health. But what does this say about the actual mechanics of your teeth? What are they, and what do they do?

Yes, they’re for eating of course. But why is each tooth shaped differently? Why aren’t they all the same size and shape like in cartoons? This is because each tooth has evolved to handle specific tasks and functions within the mouth. Understanding what those are may give you a little extra insight on how you can look your best after brushing and flossing your teeth.

The types are:

  • Incisors

  • Canines

  • Molars (which also include wisdom teeth)

We’ll quickly run through them now and tell you what they do.

Incisors

Your front most teeth are called incisors, flat and thin in their shape and relatively smooth to the touch with the tongue. They’re also the sharpest of your teeth, and you can feel this by running your tongue along them. You should have four on both jaws.

The purpose of the incisor is to cut and slice your food as you’re eating it. When you bite into something, such as an apple, it’s typically the incisors that will grip and tear out chunks. They’re also essential for forming certain sounds (such as T, D, Th, and S), and help support your lips. As they’re at the very front of your mouth, your incisors are the most vulnerable to being damaged if you’re struck in the face. Typically, if someone suffers a lost tooth because of physical trauma, the tooth they’ll lose is the incisor. Likewise, the incisor is most likely to cause damage to your tongue, as it rests  slightly before and between its tip.

Canines

The pointy teeth that we used to bare on to something with when we pretended to be wolves or vampires as children are your canines. We all have four in total. They assist the incisors in cutting and tearing food, as well as gripping and holding it in place. Because they’re intended to hold onto food while tearing, they of all the teeth have the longest, most secure roots and are very durable to physical damage.

While not immune by any means, canines and incisors both are more resistant to cavities than molars. This is because their smooth surfaces, with few slopes or ridges, make it hard for plaque to gather and collect within them. When plaque forms, it does so as a thin layer over the tooth enamel that is more easily removed when brushing.

Molars

Finally, at the very back of your teeth  are the molars. These are broad, flat teeth that are used to grind and crush food as you chew, making it softer and breaking it down into smaller pieces. Altogether, you should have twelve molars running along the sides of the jaw. They’re also the last of adult teeth to emerge. While incisors and canines may be lost from ages six to eight, molars won’t finish emerging until as late as twelve. Further molars called wisdom teeth will continue to emerge until your twenties.

Molars are the most difficult teeth to keep clean, and they are the ones that are most likely to develop cavities. This is due in part to their flat, lumpy surfaces which provide ample spaces for food and plaque to gather and build up. It’s also not helped at all by how difficult it can be for standard toothbrushes to reach around to scrub at these areas, which means that even rigorous and thorough brushing will leave areas untouched. Mouthwash, specialized toothbrushes and flossing is needed to keep your molars clean.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth are the last of the teeth to grow, right at the back of the gums. No one is quite sure exactly why we have them in the first place, but the most popular consensus was that they grew to help early humans grind and break down plant matter. As human diets evolved, these teeth remained as a sort of legacy. Like the appendix or the vestigial remnants of our tails, our development as a species is yet to be rid of them.

Unfortunately, because we have smaller jaws than our ancestors did, it means we have less room in our mouths for redundant teeth. While many people will not really notice their wisdom teeth, in some cases their growth may press upon teeth already within the mouth. Teeth growing in this manner are impacted. In the best case scenario, it will just cause the tooth to come through an odd angle. In the worst case scenario, it may grow against the already present tooth and cause intense pain and discomfort. Wisdom teeth, being hard to reach and clean, can also harbor large deposits of plaque and tartar, which will lead to gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath.

If your wisdom teeth should pose a problem, it’s a relatively straight-forward matter to have them removed. Such a procedure will last anywhere from five to twenty minutes depending on the tooth in question, but once gone the recovery is usually complete within a week or two. You will experience swollen, sore gums in the meantime, and may have difficulty chewing.

If any of these areas are experiencing abnormal pain or discomfort, be sure to see a dentist to ensure that the health of your teeth is taken care of. Premier Smile Center can evaluate the situation and advise you on how to solve any problems or complications. It is important to maintain the health of your teeth, as they are essential.

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