Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed that all of our teeth are unique in their size and shape?
There’s a reason that all of our teeth have a unique shape and size. It is because all of our teeth have a unique function in our mouth.
A lot of times we eat in “auto pilot” mode. We don’t really have to think about what our teeth are doing since we’ve been chewing for so long.
Have you ever paid attention to what your teeth do when you take a bite out of an apple, or crush a tortilla chip into small pieces that are easy to swallow?
Each tooth plays a valuable role in your mouth. This is one of the reasons that dentists try so hard to save your natural teeth rather than pull them when you get tooth decay.
The Functions of Incisors
The incisors are the eight front teeth (four on top and four on the bottom) in your mouth. They have many functions, such as:
1 – Incisors cut and slice through food when you take a bite. The incisors are the main teeth that you use to cut pieces of food, for example when you are eating a whole apple, your incisors are the teeth that slice through the apple and help you get the piece of apple into your mouth to be fully chewed by your other teeth.
2 – Incisors support the lips and face. Right now as you read this, the side of your lips that face your teeth are probably resting right up against your front teeth. Because of this, your teeth help form the overall appearance of your face. A reader, Eric, recently left a comment describing how after losing some of his front teeth, his nose and upper lip have started to sag.
3 – Help you speak. If you try to say the word tooth, you’ll notice that your tongue touches your upper incisors twice. It touches near the top of the incisors for the “t” sound and near the bottom for the “th” sound. This is just one example of the many sounds that your teeth help you make; it’s also why denture wearers have to re-learn how to speak clearly when they get their dentures.
4 – They can make your smile beautiful. When you smile, the first thing that most people notice will be your teeth. Since your incisors are your eight front teeth, they have a tremendous effect on how your smile looks. This leads many people to whiten their teeth, get braces, fix chips, and get dental work done.
5 – Incisors help guide your jaw when you close your mouth.
The Functions of Canines
There are four canines present in a full set of teeth. They are the teeth right next to the four front incisors. These are the sharp, pointy teeth that are sometimes called fang teeth. Canines are also known as the cornerstone of the dental arch as they are a big part of forming the curve that leads to the back teeth. Canines are also the longest teeth in the mouth. Because of their length, they are commonly used to anchor prosthetic teeth, such as removable partial dentures. They are also some of the last teeth lost in the mouth due to periodontal disease.
Canines also have a variety of functions:
1 – Their sharp point allows them to pierce through and tear food. Some animals that hunt for food have very sharp canines. This helps them to catch their prey. Most humans don’t run around hunting with their teeth, so we simply use our canines to pierce through food and tear it as we take bites.
2 – The canines support the lips and face. See #2 in the incisors section.
3 – The canines help you talk. See #3 in the incisors section.
4 – They help guide your teeth when you chew. Canines act as the guideposts when you move your jaw to the left or the right. If you slide your jaw to the left right now, you’ll notice that both the upper left and lower left canine teeth are sliding against each other.
The Functions of Premolars
There are a total of eight premolars in the mouth — two behind each canine tooth. Premolars are kind of a mix between canines and molars. They are also the tooth most often extracted when someone with severe crowding gets braces and there’s just not enough room in the mouth for all of the teeth. They also have varying functions:
1 – They help the canines to pierce and tear food. The premolars have a couple of sharp points on them. They aren’t as sharp as the canines, but they can still help pierce and tear food.
2 – They help the molars to crush and grind food during chewing. The premolars also have a broad biting surface, but not as broad as the molars. This helps them to crush and grind food.
3 – They help with aesthetics and speech, but not as much as the canines and incisors. If you take a look at the girl pictured above, you can see both of her upper premolars. The premolars can show more in some people than others. For example, when I smile my premolars don’t show very much. In people with wider smiles, their premolars show.
4 – Support the facial muscles at the corners of the mouth. The premolars keep the corners of your mouth from sagging inward.
The Functions of Molars
There are a total of 12 molars in the mouth, 3 behind each set of premolars. The last molar in the very back of the mouth is commonly referred to as the wisdom tooth. These teeth are usually extracted — to find out why, read the article Why Dentists Extract Wisdom Teeth.
Molars are the biggest and strongest teeth in the mouth.
1 – Molars Crush and grind food. Like I mentioned above, when we take a bit out of an apple, we get it into our mouths using our incisors. When it gets in our mouth, our tongue pushes it toward the premolars and molars so that they can crush it and grind it down into tiny apple bits.
2 – They support your cheeks. Without your molars, your cheeks would appear to be sunk into your face. Your molars play a vital role in making your cheeks appear full and vibrant.
3 – The molars play a small role in speech. Molars do help you talk, but it is a more subtle role than the other teeth in your mouth.
I hope that helped you learn about the differences between each tooth.
Note that there are some functions that all of the teeth participate in, such as making your face look as tall as it is. I’ll cover the many functions of teeth together as a group in a future post.
Do you have any questions about what your teeth do all day? If so, leave them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you have to say!