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The primary function of teeth is to help you eat by cutting, grinding, and mixing food as you chew so it’s easy to swallow. But that's not their only function.
Your teeth also help you breathe and talk, as well as serve as the foundation for shaping the lower portion of your face. They even help exchange minerals throughout your body.
Your teeth and oral hygiene also serve as a window into your body and provide a glimpse into your overall health. Learning the proper names for human teeth can make you more aware of the importance of your teeth and how they function.
This article will explain the different types of human teeth, their function, and how they're charted by dental professionals to help track of changes in your dental health.
Types of Human Teeth
There are four main categories of human teeth. They are:
Most people will have eight incisors and four canines with their primary (baby) teeth and their permanent teeth. The addition of premolars and third molars in your permanent teeth is what increases your teeth count as you get older.
How Many Teeth Do You Have?
Your adult teeth, called permanent teeth, aren't the same as your primary, or baby, teeth. As a child, you have 20 primary teeth. That number increases to 32 when your permanent teeth come in.
Tooth Numbers and Diagram
To record changes to your dental health, dentists use a chart with a diagram of your teeth. The teeth are numbered according to the Universal Numbering System adopted by the American Dental Association.
The diagram is drawn as if you’re looking at your dentist with your mouth wide open.
The top teeth are numbered from right to left. Number one is your top right back tooth, and your top left tooth in the back is number 16.
The numbering continues with your bottom teeth, moving from left to right and starting with the tooth directly under the last tooth of the top row you counted. Your left tooth in the back is number 17, and your back right tooth is number 32.
Tooth numbers one, 15, 17, and 32 are all third molars (wisdom teeth). They may not be visible in your mouth if there isn't enough space for them to erupt.
Incisors get their name from their function for cutting food and bringing it into the mouth for chewing. Typically, there are four top incisors and four incisors on the bottom, all in the center of your mouth.
They're primarily thin with a flat bottom. Incisors also are called the front teeth because they are easily seen when you talk and smile.
Also called cuspids, canine teeth are sharp, pointed teeth used to tear and rip apart food. There are four canines in total, with one on each side of the incisors on the top and the bottom.
Canines are firmly rooted and usually have the longest root of all the teeth.
Primary vs. Permanent Teeth
Primary teeth, also called baby teeth, are the teeth that start to erupt at around 6 months of age. Typically, there are 20 primary teeth: eight incisors, four canines, and eight molars.
As a child grows older, these primary teeth start to fall out to make room for permanent teeth.
An adult usually has 32 permanent teeth: eight incisors, four canines, eight premolars, and 12 molars. In most cases, all permanent teeth have erupted by the time you're 21 years old.
You have a total of eight premolars—four each on the top and bottom.
Premolars help your incisors and canines with grinding and mixing food as you chew. They're the first molars to come in, which typically happens between 10 and 12 years of age.
You have 12 molars located in the back of the mouth—six on the top and bottom.
Molars are the teeth you use most for chewing. They're characterized by their large, flatter surface compared to other teeth.
First and Second
The first molar is next to the premolars on each side of your mouth, top and bottom. A second molar sits next to the first molar.
Next to the second molar is a third molar, also known as a wisdom tooth. Usually, there are four in total, one on each side of the mouth, on the top and bottom.
Sometimes wisdom teeth are removed. This is done for a variety of reasons, such as they don’t fully erupt (or come in through the gum), there isn’t enough room for them in the jaw, or other teeth are interfering with the eruption of wisdom teeth.
For instance, if you have a small mouth that won't accommodate all of your teeth, the first and second molars could crowd out the wisdom teeth, so that they don't come through properly and instead come in at an odd angle.
While your teeth are well built, it's important to take care of them every day by brushing, flossing, and going for regular dental checkups.
There are four primary categories of human teeth: incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. All four categories have a specific function to aid in chewing food. As a child, you have 20 primary teeth. That number increases to 32 when your permanent teeth come in.
Tooth names and numbers are important to your dentist, who uses them to document oral health changes for your teeth in your dental chart.
While your teeth are well built, it's important to take proper care of them by brushing and flossing every day and seeing your dentist for regular checkups.
A Word From Verywell
Knowing the names and numbers of your teeth can help you understand which teeth your dentist is talking about during a dental exam. This will make you more aware of which teeth may have problems that need to be addressed to maintain good dental health.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How many primary teeth do babies have?
Typically, babies will have a total of 20 primary teeth.
- Why do our teeth fall out?
Our primary teeth fall out to make way for our permanent teeth to come in.
- What are wisdom teeth?
Wisdom teeth, also called third molars, are the molars in the very back of your mouth, with one on each side, top and bottom.
- What are teeth made of?
Teeth are made of four different dental tissues: enamel, dentin, cementum, and pulp. Enamel is the hard covering on the crown of the tooth—the area you can see and brush. Dentin is under the enamel and prevents foods from stimulating the nerves and cells inside the tooth, which could lead to tooth sensitivity. Cementum is the hard tissue covering the tooth root, and pulp is the soft tissue that contains nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue.