Which Teeth Are Which?: A Breakdown

  • Posted on: Jan 10 2017

When we examine your mouth during a routine procedure, we’re looking to see if anything seems out of line or in need of repair or treatment. After losing temporary baby teeth, the average adult develops to have 32 permanent teeth, which are broken down into five different categories. When we go over charts, X-rays and exam results with patients in our New York offices, they often want to know the differences between each tooth. Here’s a breakdown:


If you love biting into apples, carrots, celery and other crisp foods, say a thank you to your incisors. These are the eight teeth situated in the center of your mouth, with four on the top and four on the bottom. They vary in size and spacing and are usually the first permanent teeth that develop as you grow. Incisors are prone to enamel loss and thinning, and, as you age, they might become good candidates for porcelain veneers.


Next door to the incisors are the sharp and practical canines. These four teeth are also front and center, with two on the top and two on the bottom of your mouth. They are perfect for ripping up tough foods — like meat and raw veggies. Since these teeth are visible when you smile, their appearance can also be important, so they, too, are good candidates for veneers as you age.


Keep moving back in your mouth and you’ll find premolars (sometimes referred to as bicuspids). These guys are great for mashing up and chewing even the toughest of foods — like nuts, seeds, and sticky sweets. The average adult has four total — two on the top of the mouth and two on the bottom. Since premolars are so frequently used, we’ll be looking for cavities and signs of wear and tear on and around them. If you grind your teeth, we might look into options for prevention, like night guards.


Right behind the premolars, you’ll find the molars themselves. These teeth also function to mash and chew up food and are prone to a lot of damage over time. It can be a challenge to reach them for brushing and flossing, but keeping them clean is key to dental and overall health — and avoiding extraction, fillings, crowns, implants and dentures as time passes. Make an extra effort to keep them healthy.

Third molars

Finally, there are the third molars, more commonly known as wisdom teeth. While these aren’t necessarily a sign of being wise (as many parents of teenagers might attest), they are definitely a sign of entering adulthood. If you’re one of the “lucky” ones who develops them, you’ll likely be advised to remove them for health and spacing purposes.

Teeth help us crush, chew and digest our food, and they help us speak clearly by maintaining the shape of our mouths. The more you know about them, the better you can take care of them, so don’t hesitate to ask questions about which tooth does what.

Posted in: Dental Hygiene