Functions of Different Types of Teeth

Brunette woman smiles as she holds a magnifying glass up to her teeth against a blue wall


In a typical adult mouth, there are 4 types of permanent teeth. Here, we’ll explain the functions of each of the different types of teeth: incisors, canines, pre-molars, and molars.

8 Incisors

Your incisors are the 4 front teeth on the top jaw and the 4 front teeth on the bottom jaw. The 2 teeth on top and the 2 teeth on bottom that surround the midline–the invisible line that splits your smile into left and right sides–are called the central incisors. The 4 teeth next to these central incisors are called the lateral incisors. All incisors have a single root and a sharp edge that allows for cutting and biting into food. Incisors are also some of the most noticeable teeth in your smile and are involved in pronunciation when you speak and sing.

4 Canines

A canine tooth is located next to each lateral incisor. These are more pointed in appearance, though not nearly as long and pointed as those of our canine companions and feline friends! Canines have a single cusp and a single root, which is the longest root of any tooth. The pointed tip allows for gripping and tearing when eating, especially with tougher foods like meat and bread. They also work with the incisors in pronunciation, and their prominent position at the corners of your mouth helps to support your lips.

8 Premolars

Next to the canines are the premolars, also known as the bicuspids. There are 4 on the top jaw and 4 on the bottom jaw. The 2 premolars closest to the canines on the upper jaw have 2 roots, while the rest of the premolars have a single root. Premolars have 3 to 4 cusps and a flat surface that allows for tearing and crushing of food.

8-12 Molars

Molars are the wide, flat teeth at the back of your mouth with 4 to 5 cusps. In total, you can have anywhere from 8 to 12 molars: 4 to 6 in the upper jaw and 4 to 6 in the lower jaw. These powerful teeth are best for grinding and chewing food. The lower molars have 2 roots while the upper molars have 3 roots each. Wisdom teeth, or third molars, are the very back molars that usually erupt between the ages of 17 and 25 years of age. You might have anywhere from 0-4 wisdom teeth, and many patients need them removed to protect their oral health.

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