Do you ever “smile and nod” your way through a discussion with your dentist or hygienist because you aren’t completely sure what they mean? It seems like we should know the basics about our teeth, but many people aren’t confident with the language of dentistry. Don’t worry, it really is a bit confusing; you are not alone! Although we hope you don’t feel embarrassed about asking questions, here’s a guide to some basic language you’ll hear in the dentist’s office.
The eight teeth in the front of your mouth (four on the top, four on the bottom) are incisors. They are the first teeth to appear when we are babies (usually around 6 months), and the first teeth we lose as kids (usually around age 6). To be more specific, the two middle teeth on the top and bottom are central incisors and the surrounding four teeth are lateral incisors. These teeth are adapted for cutting.
Middle teeth have multiple names! These are the four pointed teeth next to the incisors. They are referred to as canines, cuspids, or eye teeth. Cuspid comes from the word cusp, meaning the point where two curves meet. These are your longest, strongest teeth. Since they are longer, they are the first to touch when you bite down, so they also help align teeth. Cuspids are adapted to rip and tear food. In babies, these middle teeth usually appear after the front and a few back teeth are already in place. Similarly, in older children, these permanent teeth don’t come in until the front and some back teeth are already in place. After wisdom teeth, these teeth are the most likely to be impacted (stuck beneath the gums). Since they are so strong and important, a dentist might recommend sacrificing surrounding teeth to give the cuspids enough space to come down if they are impacted.
The back teeth are adapted for chewing and grinding food. They are called molars. Molars can be broken down into subcategories.
In small children, the 2 teeth behind each cuspid are the first and second molars or the premolars. They usually emerge between ages 1-2. When these teeth fall out (between ages 9-12), the teeth that grow in their place are referred to as bicuspids. Remember, the cuspids have a point; these teeth have two points. These teeth are for crushing and tearing food. They look like a hybrid of cuspids and molars.
Permanent molars are the 12 teeth in the back of your mouth. They grow in behind the primary (baby) teeth. They are referred to as the first (or 6-year) molars, second (or 12-year) molars, and third molars (wisdom teeth). Wisdom teeth are often removed. Molars the biggest teeth. They have 4 cusps or points, and 2 or 3 roots to anchor them into the mouth.
We hope this information will improve communication with your dentist, but always ask for clarification if you need it! It’s extremely important to get all of your teeth checked by a dentist regularly! Contact us to schedule your next appointment.