Teeth help a person use their mouth to eat, speak, smile, and give shape to their face. Each type of tooth has a name and a specific function.

Teeth are made up of different layers — enamel, dentin, pulp, and cementum. Enamel, which is the hardest substance in the body, is on the outside of the tooth. The second layer is dentin, which is softer than enamel, and the deepest layer inside the tooth is pulp, which consists of nerves and blood vessels. Cementum is on the root of the tooth and is beneath the gums.

The number and types of teeth a person has changes as they age. Typically, people have two sets of teeth during their life — primary, or baby teeth, and permanent, or adult teeth. In this article, we look at the teeth that children and adults have, as well as their functions.

Humans have the following types of teeth:

an infographic of teeth.

Incisors

Incisors are the sharp teeth at the front of the mouth that bite into food and cut it into smaller pieces. They are flat with a thin edge. They are also called anterior teeth.

Both children and adults have eight incisors — four central incisors at the front of the mouth, two on each row, with one lateral incisor positioned on either side of them.

Canines

Canines are the sharp, pointed teeth that sit next to the incisors and look like fangs. Dentists also call them cuspids or eyeteeth. Canines are the longest of all the teeth, and people use them to tear food.

Both children and adults have four canines. Children usually get their first permanent canines between the ages of 9 and 12. The lower canines tend to come through slightly before those in the upper jaw.

Premolars

Premolars, or bicuspids, are bigger than the incisors and canines. They have many ridges and help chew and grind up food. Adults have eight premolars. The first and second premolars are the molars that sit next to the canines.

Young children do not have premolar teeth. These first appear as permanent teeth when children are 10–12 years old.

Molars

Molars are the biggest of all the teeth. They have a large, flat surface with ridges that allow them to chew food and grind it up. Adults have 12 permanent molars — six on the bottom and top jaw, and children have eight primary molars.

The last molars to erupt are wisdom teeth, or third molars, which usually come through between the ages of 17–21. These sit at the end of the row of teeth, in the far corners of the jaw. Some people do not have all four wisdom teeth, or the teeth may stay unerupted in the bone and never appear in the mouth.

Sometimes wisdom teeth can become impacted, which means they can become trapped under the gum and are unable to come through properly.

Wisdom teeth that only come through halfway or are in the wrong position can increase the risk for infection or damage in surrounding areas. It is essential to see a dentist if people have any issues with their wisdom teeth.

People may experience mild discomfort when their wisdom teeth start pushing through the gums, but anyone feeling a lot of pain or has swelling should see a dentist.

A dentist may need to remove wisdom teeth if a person has tooth decay, pain, or an infection. People do not need these teeth for chewing, and they are difficult to keep clean because of their position far back in the mouth.

a woman showing off her teethShare on Pinterest
Adults usually have 32 teeth.

Children have 20 primary, or baby, teeth. Primary teeth first start to appear when babies are around 6 months old. Children usually get all their primary teeth by the age of 3.

These teeth gradually fall out, and 28 permanent teeth replace them. Sometimes, permanent teeth push the baby teeth out, but typically, permanent teeth come through the gums at the back of the mouth behind the last baby tooth in the jaw.

The first permanent teeth to erupt through the gums are four first, or '6-year' molars, so-called because they usually come through when a child is about 6 years old.

The first baby teeth to fall out are the lower central incisors. The adult central incisors tend to erupt around the same time as the first permanent molars around age 6-7.

Usually, people have lost all of their baby teeth by around the age of 14.

The following table shows the different types of primary teeth and the usual ages that children gain and lose them, according to the American Dental Association:

Type of teethAge teeth come throughAge teeth are lost
Upper jawUpper jawUpper jaw
Central incisor8–12 months6– 7 years
Lateral incisor9–13 months7–8 years
Canine16–22 months10–12 years
First molar13–19 months9–11 years
Second molar25–33 months10–12 years
Lower jawLower jawLower jaw
Second molar23–31 months10–12 years
First molar14–18 months9–11 years
Canine17–23 months9–12 years
Lateral incisor10–16 months7–8 years
Central incisor6–10 months6–7 years

In their late teens to early twenties, most people will also get four wisdom teeth, giving adults a total of 32 teeth, usually by 21 years old.

The following table shows the different types of permanent teeth and the usual ages that they come through, according to the American Dental Association:

Type of teethAge teeth erupt
Upper jawUpper jaw
Central incisor7–8 years
Lateral incisor8–9 years
Canine11–12 years
First premolar10–11 years
Second premolar10–12 years
First molar6–7 years
Second molar12–13 years
Third molar or wisdom teeth17–21 years
Lower jawLower jaw
Third molar or wisdom teeth17–21 years
Second molar11–13 years
First molar6–7 years
Second premolar11–12 years
First premolar10–12 years
Canine9–10 years
Lateral incisor7–8 years
Central incisor6–7 years

The age that teeth erupt or appear varies from child to child, so parents or caregivers need not be concerned if their child's teeth do not exactly follow the patterns above. Check with the child's dentist if they experience a delay of longer than 1 year. Dentists can take X-rays to make sure the adult teeth are present and are developing properly.

Human teeth include incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. Children will usually get all of their 20 primary teeth by around the age of 3. By around the age of 21, most people will get their wisdom teeth and have all their 32 permanent teeth.

Teeth are essential for chewing food properly and helping people to speak. Taking good care of all the teeth and maintaining good oral hygiene throughout a person's life can help to keep teeth strong and healthy.

People can keep their teeth and mouth clean with the following daily practices:

  • brushing the teeth twice a day
  • using a fluoride toothpaste
  • flossing at least once a day
  • eating a balanced diet
  • avoiding excess sugar in food and drinks

Visiting the dentist regularly for cleaning and a checkup can ensure teeth remain in good health and allow prompt treatment for any problems.