Types of Teeth: Molars

Function & Purpose of Molars

Molars are the flat teeth in the back of the mouth used for grinding. They are located in both the upper and lower arches. 

There are two sets of molars. The first set erupts when you’re a baby, while the other set erupts during adolescence.  

Hard foods like vegetables and grains need molars to grind them down enough to be swallowed safely. Even some soft foods like cheeses and fruits are ground up by the molars.

What Age Do Children Get Molars?

Children get molars at nearly all ages during childhood. 

Childhood (primary) molars erupt from toddlerhood to 3 years of age. Adult (permanent) molars erupt from around 6 to 12 years of age. 

Types of Molars & When They Erupt 

Not all molars erupt at the right time, but they almost always erupt eventually. 

Here is a timeline of when baby and adult molars should erupt (and the average eruption time for each tooth): 

Baby Molars

These are the first molars to erupt. There is one baby molar on each side on the top and bottom.

They usually emerge at around 1 year of age but may erupt before or after this time. 

The baby molars are the first set of teeth a toddler uses to grind food. They also help them learn how to chew properly. 

These molars are not permanent and will be lost between 10 and 12 years of age. The permanent teeth (first premolars) will erupt into these spaces as the patient gets older. 

3-Year Molars

These are the second premolars to erupt. Similar to baby molars, they are premolars and not permanent teeth. The patient will lose these teeth by around 9 to 11 years of age

After the 3-year-old molars are shed, they’re replaced with the second bicuspids (second premolars). They come in on each side on the top and bottom.

6-Year Molars

6-year-old molars are some of the most important teeth in the mouth. There is one tooth on each side on the top and bottom.

These permanent teeth erupt early in life but are needed for a lifetime. 

They are the most common molars to develop tooth decay and dental problems, primarily because they have been in the mouth for so many years. 

They don’t fall out like other first molars. And when they erupt, the patient should see a dentist to ensure they come in straight. It’s also essential to make sure the patient has developed good dental hygiene habits.

Sealants may be placed on these molars (around age 6) to help prevent food and plaque debris from causing a cavity. 

12-Year Molars

12-year-old molars are also known as second permanent molars. These teeth are located in the back of the mouth, in front of the wisdom teeth. 

They do not shed and are important for grinding food. 

By the time these molars come in, patients should have well-established dental hygiene routines to ensure they are cleaned thoroughly. 

Wisdom Teeth

Also known as “third molars,” these are almost always the last permanent teeth to erupt around ages 17 to 23. 

For many patients, wisdom teeth never come in. They are usually surgically removed before eruption.  

Problems with wisdom teeth are well-known and quite common. If you find that your wisdom teeth need to be removed before or after they have fully erupted, don’t worry. Removal can occur at any stage. 

Why & When Should Wisdom Teeth Be Removed?

Wisdom teeth don’t always have to be removed. 

Sometimes they can be left alone if they do not affect adjacent teeth or cause any hygiene issues. 

Also, if wisdom teeth can be properly cleaned and don’t cause bite issues, many people choose to keep them. 

The American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons reports an estimated 60% to 85% of people have had one or more wisdom teeth removed. 

Wisdom teeth may require removal to prevent long-term dental problems. They may also not have enough room to grow in correctly. 

Many times, wisdom teeth can erupt impacted at all different angles and cause jaw issues. 

Some commonly reported problems with wisdom teeth include: 

  • Partially erupting through the gums, creating a magnet for plaque and food debris, potentially causing an infection
  • Never erupting and becoming trapped, leaving the wisdom tooth to develop a dangerous cyst
  • Causing a painful infection called pericoronitis
  • Causing damage to adjacent teeth by a resorbing tooth or bone tissue

Dentists recommend removing wisdom teeth if there is not enough room for them to erupt into the correct position. A dentist can tell if this is necessary with a clinical exam and a panoramic or cone beam radiograph. 

Recovery is also quicker when wisdom teeth are removed at a younger age. This is because, as you age, the bone becomes dense. It is more difficult to extract the tooth, resulting in a longer recovery time and a greater risk of infection. 

Signs you may need your wisdom teeth removed include:

  • Throbbing pain in the back of your mouth
  • Ear pain
  • Gum disease
  • Deep tooth decay that is difficult to restore
  • Cysts that may become harmful to adjacent oral structures
  • An infection that causes bad taste or purulence (pus)

Other Types of Teeth & Their Functions

Molars are important teeth, but they’re not the only ones. Every tooth has a function, including creating a beautiful smile:

Incisors

These are your front teeth. They’re often the first teeth that come in for babies (and are usually the first permanent teeth). There are four front teeth on the top and four front teeth on the bottom

Incisors are the teeth that you use to bite foods. When you bite into an apple or a sandwich, it’s with the front teeth. These are also the teeth most focused on when a patient smiles. 

Canines

You have four canine teeth: two on top and two on the bottom (on either side of your incisors). 

They are your sharpest teeth. You use them to dig into foods and tear them. When you bite into something with your incisors, your canines give that bite purchase to be able to tear with force. 

What’s the Difference Between Premolars and Molars?

Premolars (also called bicuspids) are located between the canines and molars. 

There are eight premolars, which replace all of the primary molars when they fall out. 

Premolars' main purpose is to crush and sometimes tear food. They also help hold the shape of the arch and face. Without premolars, the contour of your face would change.

Premolars are much smaller than molars. They usually only have one to two roots compared to two to three roots for molars. 

Tips: How to Take Care of Your Molars

There are several things that you can do to take care of your molars. Here are some:

  • The best way to take care of your molars is to brush and floss regularly using ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste. 
  • Maintaining a well-balanced diet is always recommended to keep your oral and overall health in tip-top shape. 
  • Make sure to visit your dentist at least twice a year for a professional cleaning and comprehensive exam. 
  • Also, speak with a dental professional about sealants, which are a simple and affordable way to protect molars from decay.
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