While most adults have 32 teeth, these teeth are far from identical. Teeth vary in structure from person to person and even within our own mouths. For example, it is extremely unlikely that any two of your incisors will be twins. In fact, your teeth – or dentition – can be as unique as fingerprints.
Still, most everyone has the same general number and types of teeth. Let’s take a look at the kinds of human teeth, their function, and possible problems.
Incisors are the set of eight teeth at the very front of your mouth – four on the bottom and another four on top. They are generally rectangular in shape and serve for biting. Since humans are omnivores, meaning we can eat both meat and plants, your incisors can be used equally well for snipping off a piece of celery or a bite of sausage.
Incisors are among the first “milk teeth” to appear in early childhood and also the first to be replaced by permanent adult teeth. Since they are easily reached with a toothbrush and floss, the incisors are not typically prone to decay, but they can certainly still suffer from neglect of oral hygiene.
Due to their prominent position, the incisors are among the most frequently damaged teeth. A face plant on a skateboard or using your teeth to open a package are just two of the ways in which you can chip an incisor or lose the tooth altogether.
Set on either side of your incisors are your canines. These sharp teeth are often “fangs” in other mammals, where they are used for combat as well as eating. In humans, our four canine teeth allow us to rip and shred tough food like meat or fibrous vegetables.
Like the incisors, you can easily reach your canines for daily dental care. Also similar to the incisors, the front position of the canines makes them especially vulnerable to injury from sports and accidents.
Your four premolars function as grinders and crushers. Pay attention the next time you take a bite of a crisp food like an apple or carrot, and you will probably notice that you unconsciously move the food toward the back of your mouth where your premolars and molars are located. This is so that you can grind the food to a pulp in preparation for swallowing.
There are no “baby” premolars. Instead, human premolars are permanent and erupt at about ten years of age. These teeth can be difficult to reach, so take particular care of them to avoid cavities.
Like premolars, the molars are grinding and chewing teeth. Adults have a total of eight permanent molars, and these teeth are positioned at the very back of the mouth. This arrangement means that the molars are sometimes difficult to reach and often suffer from incomplete daily cleaning and resulting decay.
Furthermore, most people eventually have to deal with a set of third molars, better known as wisdom teeth. These teeth start to arrive in the late teens and early twenties. The majority of patients will need their wisdom teeth removed to prevent crowding and infection. Fortunately, your dentist can detect wisdom teeth long before they erupt and remove them before they cause problems.