YOU’VE PROBABLY NOTICED that your teeth aren’t all the same shape, but do you know the reason? Humans have four different types of teeth, and they each serve specific purposes, both in helping us chew and in giving us our beautiful smiles!
The reason we need so many different types of teeth is that we are omnivores, which means we eat both plants and meat. We need teeth that can handle all of our favorite foods!
At the very front of the mouth, the top four and bottom four teeth are the incisors. The middle ones are central incisors, while the ones on the sides are lateral incisors. Incisors are built for slicing. When we take a bite out of an apple, for instance, our incisors shear off a tasty chunk of fruit, but they aren’t the teeth we actually chew with.
Next to the lateral incisors are our canines, which are the sharpest and longest teeth in our mouths. This enables them to grip and tear food, particularly meat. Unlike incisors, we only have four canines. Their long roots and their position at the “corners” of our dental arches also make them some of the most important teeth in our smiles, because they provide much of the shape. Another name for canine teeth is eyeteeth. That might seem weird, but it’s because these teeth are directly beneath our eyes!
After the canines, we have our premolars. You can think of premolars as hybrids between canines and molars. They have sharp outer edges, but they also have flat chewing surfaces, which means they can help the canines with tearing food and the molars with grinding it up. We don’t have any premolars as children; our eight adult premolars are actually the teeth that replace our baby molars!
Finally, we have the molars. Molars are our biggest teeth, with multiple roots and large, flat chewing surfaces. We have eight baby molars and up to twelve adult molars, depending on whether or not we have and keep our wisdom teeth. Molars are the teeth that do most of the chewing, because those flat surfaces are perfect for grinding and crushing food until it’s ready to be swallowed.
Our teeth are the way they are because we’re omnivores. Herbivores (plant-eaters) and carnivores (meat-eaters) have very different teeth. Herbivores typically have chisel-like incisors and large, flat premolars and molars for chewing plants, while their canines are small, if they have them at all. Carnivores tend to have much bigger canine teeth than we do, but their incisors are much smaller, and while they still have premolars and molars, they are often serrated like knives, built for shredding rather than grinding.
What do all four types of your teeth have in common? They need regular attention from a dentist! Keep bringing those incisors, canines, premolars, and molars to see us every six months so that we can make sure they’re all staying healthy. In the meantime, you can do your part by remembering to brush twice a day, floss daily, and cut back on sugary treats!