What Are the Names and Functions of the Teeth?

Teeth have their own characteristics, names, and functions. Knowing them allows you to pay more attention to their care.
What Are the Names and Functions of the Teeth?
Vanesa Evangelina Buffa

Written and verified by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa.

Last update: 07 November, 2023

The teeth as a whole play a fundamental role in feeding, speech, and the esthetics of the smile. But each one has particular anatomical characteristics, a name that identifies it, and specific functions. Keep reading to find out what the names and functions of the teeth are.

In our lives, we have two types of dentitions, each with specific functions. The baby or temporary teeth are the first set of teeth that accompany us from the time we’re babies and during infancy. Then, at around six years of age, they’re replaced to give way to the definitive dentition that we’ll use during adulthood.

How many teeth do children have?

As we mentioned before, the first teeth to erupt correspond to the deciduous or temporary dentition. There are 20 baby teeth that begin to erupt progressively at around six months of age and complete their eruption before the age of three years. However, the time and order of eruption depend on several factors and is specific to each person.

The 20 primary teeth include the same ten teeth in the upper and lower jaw: Four incisors, two canines, and four molars in each arch. From the age of six until around twelve years old, children lose their baby teeth, which are replaced by permanent teeth. In addition, at this stage, permanent molars appear in the back part of the mouth.

Although primary teeth only remain in the mouth for a limited time, they must be cared for to prevent them from getting sick and being lost prematurely. These teeth have important functions in children:

  • Chewing: Baby teeth allow children to learn to chew. Incorporating this function is essential for proper nutrition.
  • Speech: The primary elements participate in the development of speech, as many phonemes need the presence of teeth to sound correctly.
  • Development of the jaws: The correct position of the baby teeth and their proper use favors the normal growth of the jaws. Eating, speaking, and breathing properly positively influence the development of the bones of the mouth and face.
  • Guidance of permanent eruption: The temporary elements reserve the space needed for the permanent teeth to position themselves in their proper place.
  • Aesthetics: The presence of all the baby teeth in the mouth improves the child’s appearance. A beautiful and harmonious smile prevents teasing and feelings of embarrassment and improves self-esteem.
Knowing the peculiarities of each tooth will help to value its importance in the mouth. This way, you’ll be able to pay more attention to the care of each one.

How many teeth do adults have?

Adults have 32 teeth that appear in the mouth in a progressive manner. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the eruption of the definitive elements begins at age six, with tooth replacement and the eruption of the first permanent molar. In turn, the totality of the teeth is completed with the eruption of the wisdom teeth, which occurs between the ages of 17 and 21. The 32 definitive elements include the following:

  • Eight incisors
  • Four canines
  • Eight premolars
  • Twelve molars

The names of the teeth and their functions

The participation of the teeth in eating is one of the most important functions. They also allow us to speak clearly. Many of the sounds with which we communicate require support from the teeth to sound correctly. But not all elements are designed for the same purpose. Depending on their characteristics, the teeth have their own names and functions. Let’s look at them in detail.


Incisors are the eight teeth located in the front of the mouth: Four in the upper jaw and four in the lower jaw. This type of tooth is present in both the temporary and permanent dentition.

Incisors, on the other hand, have a single root, and their crown is shaped like a small chisel with straight, sharp edges. This feature is used for biting. For example, we use these pieces to bite into an apple and cut off a piece. In addition, the front teeth are involved in the production of several phonemes. Their presence and proper placement allow for the correct pronunciation of words.

In general, they’re the first teeth to erupt, and they erupt around six months of age. They’re also the first teeth to fall out and be replaced. This group of permanent teeth is completed between the ages of six and nine years. Of the four incisors of each jaw, two are located on each side of the midline of the face and are called central incisors. The lateral incisors are located outside these teeth.


The canines are four teeth located next to the incisors: Two in the upper jaw–one on the right and one on the left–and two in the lower jaw. They’re present in both the primary and permanent dentition. These teeth have a single root, and their crown is conical, pointed, and sharp. This characteristic allows them to perform the function of grasping and tearing food.

Colloquially, these teeth are also called fangs. Baby canines erupt between 16 and 23 months. In addition, the upper teeth usually appear first, and then the lower ones. On the other hand, the adult teeth emerge in the opposite way. In other words, first the lower ones, around nine years of age, and then the upper ones, between eleven and twelve years of age.

A woman smiling and showing her teeth.
Among their most important functions, the teeth help to grind food, form the food bolus, and facilitate swallowing.


These teeth are only present in the permanent dentition. They’re the elements that replace the baby molars when they fall out. There are eight premolars in total: Four upper and four lower, located behind the canines and in front of the molars. Their crown is larger than that of the canines and incisors, but smaller than that of the molars.

They have an occlusal surface similar to that of the molars, but with two tips, which is why they’re also known as bicuspids. Their function is to grind food into smaller pieces for easier swallowing. The first permanent upper premolar can have two roots or a single root that ends in two tips. In contrast, the others usually have only one. The first ones appear between the ages of ten and twelve, and the second a year later.


These are located in the posterior portion of the oral cavity, and their number varies depending on whether they’re temporary or permanent. There are eight molars in total: Four upper and four lower. Later, in the permanent dentition, four more molars are added: Wisdom teeth and third molars.

These are the largest and strongest teeth in the mouth. They have a crown with a large irregular occlusal surface, with grooves and cusps. This allows them to be used for crushing, grinding, and grinding food. The lower ones usually have two roots, and the upper ones have three. Wisdom teeth can have several roots or only one.

The first molars erupt between 13 and 18 months, while they fall out between nine and eleven years of age. The second molars erupt between 23 and 33 months and are lost between ten and twelve years of age. The permanent molars erupt without any tooth falling out. The first molar erupts at six years of age, the second at twelve, and the third between 17 and 21. If the last molars don’t have enough space to erupt, it’s necessary to extract them.

Healthy teeth

Now that you know the names and functions of your teeth, you can understand the importance of taking care of them. Having all your teeth intact and healthy allows you to eat, speak, and smile normally. In addition, to keep teeth healthy, it’s essential to practice proper oral hygiene from the time the first teeth appear. A healthy diet and a visit to the dentist every six months are also necessary.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.