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Updated on December 30, 2022
5 min read

Types of Teeth, Their Function and Shapes

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Different Types of Teeth & Their Shapes

Your teeth naturally come in different shapes. Each tooth shape has a specific function and purpose. Your canine teeth, for example, are sharp and nearly triangular to cut through food.

Tooth shapes can also differ by person, with some having bigger or longer teeth than others. These differences don’t necessarily affect a person’s health. However, sometimes people consider the shape of their teeth a cosmetic issue.

Teeth also differ between childhood and adulthood. Children have 20 teeth, known as primary or milk teeth. Starting around age 6, these teeth gradually fall out, giving way to 32 secondary (permanent) teeth.

types of teeth vector

Adults generally have four types of teeth, each playing a different role:

Incisors

Incisors are the teeth with flat edges in the front of your mouth. Adults and children both have four incisors in each arch. Some people’s incisors are more scooped or shovel-like, while others are more rounded.

As their name suggests, these teeth incise or cut into things. Along with your canines, they help you to take bites out of food.

Your incisors are also important in speaking. You make many phonetic sounds by putting your tongue and lower lip against these teeth. Issues with the incisors can cause someone to have a lisp.

Canines

Canines, also known as cuspids, are the sharp, fang-like teeth on either side of your incisors. Adults and children have 4 in total, one on each side of each arch.

Of all your teeth, the canines are the best at piercing and tearing into things. They help your incisors take bites out of tougher pieces of food.

Premolars

Premolars, also called bicuspids, are oval-shaped teeth. Their mostly flat top surfaces have small ridges. These teeth sit behind your canines, closer to the back of your mouth.

These teeth assist your molars in helping you to chew and grind down food. They first come in around the age of 10, replacing a child’s primary molars.

Molars

Molars are similar to premolars but bigger, with a more cube-like shape. Adults and children have at least eight molars (two sets of four).

Like premolars, these teeth are flat on top but have small ridges to break down food while chewing. They have a larger surface area than premolars.

Third Molars

More than half of adults develop a third set of molars, bringing the total to 12. Commonly known as wisdom teeth, these usually come in during a person’s late teens or early twenties.

Because most people often don’t have large enough jaws to fit them, these teeth may not emerge completely. This might not cause problems, but the wisdom teeth are usually still removed to prevent future complications.

Can Teeth Change Shape?

The shape of your teeth can change slightly over time, usually due to a one-time injury or long-term erosion or decay.

Any of the following can affect the shape of your teeth:

Can You Change Your Teeth Shape and Size? 

Dental professionals can alter the shape of your teeth. This may be necessary to treat a broken, worn down, or previously treated tooth. Alternatively, you can change the shape of your teeth to improve your appearance.

Crowns or Veneers

Dental restorations like crowns or veneers can cover an underlying tooth and give it a different shape.

Crowns may be used to protect and restore function to a broken tooth or a tooth that has undergone root canal treatment.

Veneers, on the other hand, are purely cosmetic. These are artificial shells that go over the surfaces of teeth to provide a more esthetic shape or shade.

Dental Bonding

Dental bonding involves attaching a synthetic material to a tooth to restore or improve its natural shape. This is often performed on teeth with minor chipping or to fill in small gaps between teeth.

Enameloplasty

Enameloplasty, also known as odontoplasty or tooth recontouring, is another largely cosmetic procedure. It involves trimming away small amounts of enamel. This may be done for teeth that are slightly chipped or uneven.

Gum Reshaping

Some people have a “gummy smile” that makes their teeth appear smaller or wider. Gum tissue can be removed or reshaped to allow more of a person’s teeth to show. This can improve the perceived shape of the teeth.

Orthodontic Treatment

Similar to gum reshaping, orthodontic treatment can improve the appearance of your teeth even though it doesn’t affect the underlying shape. Orthodontic treatment can also significantly improve oral health by making oral hygiene easier.

Orthodontic treatments include braces and clear aligners. The exact type and length of treatment depend on the severity of teeth misalignment.

Precautions

When considering a procedure to alter the shape of your teeth, it’s important to remember that it may not be reversible. Tooth enamel and gum tissue, for example, don’t grow back.

In addition, not all procedures provide equally long-lasting results. Dental bonding may need to be redone after several years due to wear of the composite resin over time.

Talk to your dentist about the pros and cons of any procedures that may change your teeth’s shape (or perceived shape).

Summary

Your teeth naturally come in several different shapes and sizes. This allows them to perform multiple tasks, including biting, chewing, and making certain phonetic sounds.

Tooth shapes also differ from person to person. Sometimes the shape of a person’s teeth reflects an oral health issue. In other cases, people seek cosmetic treatment to improve the appearance of their teeth.

Last updated on December 30, 2022
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on December 30, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  2. Berthaume, Michael A., et al. “The landscape of tooth shape: Over 20 years of dental topography in primates.” Evolutionary Anthropology, 2020.
  3. Jernvall, Jukka, and Irma Thesleff. "Tooth shape formation and tooth renewal: evolving with the same signals." Development, 2012.
  4. Gościewska, Katarzyna, and Dariusz Frejlichowski. “The General Shape Analysis applied for coarse classification of teeth shapes.” Procedia Computer Science, 2020.
  5. Papagiannis, Alexandros, and Demetrios J. Halazonetis. "Shape variation and covariation of upper and lower dental arches of an orthodontic population." European Journal of Orthodontics, 2016.
  6. Pantalacci, Sophie. "Tooth Development: What sharks and mammals share." eLife Magazine, 2022.
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