4 Types of Teeth and Their Functions

a woman with a hat smiling with her teeth

Teeth are like street lamps at night – you don’t notice how useful they are until they are gone. Teeth perform several functions, quietly behind the scenes. Apart from significantly contributing to your picture-perfect smile, teeth play a role in speech and in the digestion of food.

Today, we cast the spotlight on the four different types of teeth in your mouth. Bet you didn’t know that you had different types of teeth!

Most adults have about 32 permanent adult teeth, and the teeth may be divided into the following four categories – incisors, canines, premolars and molars.

4 Types of Teeth and Their Functions 1
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1. Incisors

The incisors are the types of teeth that greet your friends, family and grace your photographs. If you are looking for an aesthetically pleasing smile, then you should shower your incisors with plenty of care, i.e. flossing, and regular tooth brushing.

Incisors are the four most middle teeth on both the top and bottom jaws. Incisors take the first bites into food and help support the lips as well.

There are two types of incisors – central incisors and lateral incisors.

Central incisors

Know what makes you pronounce your consonants clearly? They are your two maxillary central incisors!

Central incisors can be found in the front part of your jaws. The top row of central incisors are shaped like shovels and are the most prominent feature of your smile.

The bottom central incisors have a single root. Their main function is to help to chew food in mastication.

Lateral incisors

The small teeth between your central incisors and your canines are known as your lateral incisors. Adults generally have four lateral incisors, two upper incisors and two bottom incisors. Lateral incisors have a single root, and they tend to be small and thin.

Lateral incisors play a crucial role in digestion, as they help to divide food into smaller pieces during mastication. The next time you chew your food, you will know that your lateral incisors are hard at work!

2. Canines

The second type of teeth is canine. Adults have four canines in all, one on each side of the top and bottom incisors. You can find your canines just at the curve of your dental arch on both sides of your jaw.

The term “canine” conjures up the image of a friendly doggo with canines. This is likely due to the shape of canines, which are pointy on the tip. The uppermost peak of the canine is known as the “cusp”.

Canines are the strongest type of all four types of teeth and are highly resistant to the tremendous pressure caused by chewing. Canines are vital in the overall functioning of your teeth. Canines help to shear food, support the lips and are complementary in assisting your incisors and premolars in the chewing of food. More importantly, canines guide all your teeth into place when the top and lower jaw come into contact.

3. Premolars

Just behind your canines are your premolars. Adults have four premolars, four on the top and bottom of your jaw. Premolars have two cusps. They are flat on top and are used to, surprise, surprise, chew food. Specifically, premolars tear and grind food into smaller pieces when chewing. An interesting fact about the premolars is that they help to maintain the height of your face.

4. Molars

Your molars are next to your premolars. They are your widest, flattest teeth and are the strongest, most powerful teeth. Generally, adults have twelve teeth in total – six on top and six on the bottom. The molars cluster into four groups of three at the back of your mouth.

Third Molars – Your Wisdom Tooth

5 wise facts about wisdom teeth_1

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Remember that painful wisdom tooth extraction you had earlier? That was your molars being removed. Your wisdom teeth, also known as your third molars, are the last to erupt and usually do so in young adulthood. If the wisdom tooth erupts straight out, they do not need to be removed.

However, these wisdom teeth do not always grow out as desired. When they do not erupt properly, wisdom teeth can cause pain and infection, and even decay to the molar in front of it. This is when the removal of these wisdom teeth becomes necessary. Of course, a discussion about third molars tends to beg the question of why third molars are called the wisdom tooth.

It is suggested that it is precisely due to the late eruption of the third molar, as compared to the other teeth, at young adulthood, that a person does indeed gain wisdom when his third molars appear. This theory is backed up by science, as recent studies have shown that the brain does not reach full maturity until the age of 25.

Other Important Facts About Your Molars

Like premolars, molars function to chewing food and to maintain the height of the face. Your bottom and top molars have two and three roots respectively.

As your molars are located in the deep corners of your mouth, the molars tend to be overlooked when brushing teeth. Hence, molars are more vulnerable than other types of teeth to tooth decay. Make a conscious effort to show your molars some love when you brush your teeth! We use our teeth on a daily basis, and yet, like most other bodily functions, we do not pay close attention to them.


Now that you know about the four types of teeth, the next time you eat your favourite food or grin for the camera, you will know how your teeth function together!

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