Teeth are among the most distinctive (and long-lasting) features of mammal species. Paleontologists use teeth to identify fossil species and determine their relationships. The shape of the animal's teeth are related to its diet. For example, plant matter is hard to digest, so herbivores have many molars for chewing. Carnivores, on the other hand, need canines to kill and tear meat.
Mammals are diphyodont, meaning that they develop two sets of teeth. In humans, the first set (the "baby," "milk," "primary" or "deciduous" set) normally starts to appear at about six months of age, although some babies are born with one or more visible teeth, known as Neonatal teeth. Normal tooth eruption at about six months is known as teething and can be painful.
Some animals develop only one set of teeth (monophyodont) while others develop many sets (polyphyodont). Sharks, for example, grow a new set of teeth every two weeks to replace worn teeth. Rodent incisors grow and wear away continually through gnawing, maintaining relatively constant length. Many rodents, such as the sibling vole and the guinea pig, have continuously growing molars in addition to incisors.
The bottom teeth are used more for the grinding of food and the top front teeth are mainly used for biting.
Dental anatomy is a field of anatomy dedicated to the study of tooth structures. The development, appearance, and classification of teeth fall within its field of study, though dental occlusion, or contact among teeth, does not. Dental anatomy is also a taxonomical science as it is concerned with the naming of teeth and their structures. This information serves a practical purpose for dentists, enabling them to easily identify teeth and structures during treatment.
The anatomic crown of a tooth is the area covered in enamel above the cementoenamel junction (CEJ). The majority of the crown is composed of dentin with the pulp chamber in the center. The crown is within bone before eruption. After eruption, it is almost always visible. The anatomic root is found below the cementoenamel junction and is covered with cementum. As with the crown, dentin composes most of the root, which normally have pulp canals. A tooth may have multiple roots or just one root. Canines and most premolars, except for maxillary (upper) first premolars, usually have one root. Maxillary first premolars and mandibular molars usually have two roots. Maxillary molars usually have three roots. Additional roots are referred to as supernumerary roots.
Humans usually have 20 primary teeth (also called deciduous, baby, or milk teeth) and 32 permanent teeth. Among primary teeth, 10 are found in the (upper) maxilla and the other 10 in the (lower) mandible. Teeth are classified as incisors, canines, and molars. In the primary set of teeth, there are two types of incisors, centrals and laterals, and two types of molars, first and second. All primary teeth are replaced with permanent counterparts except for molars, which are replaced by permanent premolars. Among permanent teeth, 16 are found in the maxilla with the other 16 in the mandible. The maxillary teeth are the maxillary central incisor, maxillary lateral incisor, maxillary canine, maxillary first premolar, maxillary second premolar, maxillary first molar, maxillary second molar, and maxillary third molar. The mandibular teeth are the mandibular central incisor, mandibular lateral incisor, mandibular canine, mandibular first premolar, mandibular second premolar, mandibular first molar, mandibular second molar, and mandibular third molar. Third molars are commonly called "wisdom teeth" and may never erupt into the mouth or form at all. If any additional teeth form, for example, fourth and fifth molars, which are rare, they are referred to as supernumerary teeth.
Most teeth have identifiable features that distinguish them from others. There are several different notation systems to refer to a specific tooth. The three most commons systems are the FDI World Dental Federation notation, the universal numbering system, and Palmer notation method. The FDI system is used worldwide, and the universal is used widely in the United States.
Enamel is the hardest and most highly mineralized substance of the body and is one of the four major tissues which make up the tooth, along with dentin, cementum, and dental pulp. It is normally visible and must be supported by underlying dentin. Ninety-six percent of enamel consists of mineral, with water and organic material composing the rest. The normal color of enamel varies from light yellow to grayish white. At the edges of teeth where there is no dentin underlying the enamel, the color sometimes has a slightly blue tone. Since enamel is semitranslucent, the color of dentin and any restorative dental material underneath the enamel strongly affects the appearance of a tooth. Enamel varies in thickness over the surface of the tooth and is often thickest at the cusp, up to 2.5 mm, and thinnest at its border, which is seen clinically as the cementoenamel junction (CEJ).
Enamel's primary mineral is hydroxyapatite, which is a crystalline calcium phosphate. The large amount of minerals in enamel accounts not only for its strength but also for its brittleness. Dentin, which is less mineralized and less brittle, compensates for enamel and is necessary as a support. Unlike dentin and bone, enamel does not contain collagen. Instead, it has two unique classes of proteins called amelogenins and enamelins. While the role of these proteins is not fully understood, it is believed that they aid in the development of enamel by serving as framework support among other functions.
Dentin is the substance between enamel or cementum and the pulp chamber. It is secreted by the odontoblasts of the dental pulp. The formation of dentin is known as dentinogenesis. The porous, yellow-hued material is made up of 70% inorganic materials, 20% organic materials, and 10% water by weight. Because it is softer than enamel, it decays more rapidly and is subject to severe cavities if not properly treated, but dentin still acts as a protective layer and supports the crown of the tooth.
Dentin is a mineralized connective tissue with an organic matrix of collagenous proteins. Dentin has microscopic channels, called dentinal tubules, which radiate outward through the dentin from the pulp cavity to the exterior cementum or enamel border. The diameter of these tubules range from 2.5 μm near the pulp, to 1.2 μm in the midportion, and 900 nm near the dentino-enamel junction. Although they may have tiny side-branches, the tubules do not intersect with each other. Their length is dictated by the radius of the tooth. The three dimensional configuration of the dentinal tubules is genetically determined.
Cementum is a specialized bony substance covering the root of a tooth. It is approximately 45% inorganic material (mainly hydroxyapatite), 33% organic material (mainly collagen) and 22% water. Cementum is excreted by cementoblasts within the root of the tooth and is thickest at the root apex. Its coloration is yellowish and it is softer than either dentin or enamel. The principal role of cementum is to serve as a medium by which the periodontal ligaments can attach to the tooth for stability. At the cementoenamel junction, the cementum is acellular due to its lack of cellular components, and this acellular type covers at least ⅔ of the root. The more permeable form of cementum, cellular cementum, covers about ⅓ of the root apex.
Tooth development is the complex process by which teeth form from embryonic cells, grow, and erupt into the mouth. Although many diverse species have teeth, non-human tooth development is largely the same as in humans. For human teeth to have a healthy oral environment, enamel, dentin, cementum, and the periodontium must all develop during appropriate stages of fetal development. Primary (baby) teeth start to form between the sixth and eighth weeks in utero, and permanent teeth begin to form in the twentieth week in utero. If teeth do not start to develop at or near these times, they will not develop at all.
A significant amount of research has focused on determining the processes that initiate tooth development. It is widely accepted that there is a factor within the tissues of the first branchial arch that is necessary for the development of teeth.
Tooth development is commonly divided into the following stages: the bud stage, the cap, the bell, and finally maturation. The staging of tooth development is an attempt to categorize changes that take place along a continuum; frequently it is difficult to decide what stage should be assigned to a particular developing tooth. This determination is further complicated by the varying appearance of different histologic sections of the same developing tooth, which can appear to be different stages.
The tooth bud (sometimes called the tooth germ) is an aggregation of cells that eventually forms a tooth. It is organized into three parts: the enamel organ, the dental papilla and the dental follicle. The enamel organ is composed of the outer enamel epithelium, inner enamel epithelium, stellate reticulum and stratum intermedium. These cells give rise to ameloblasts, which produce enamel and the reduced enamel epithelium. The growth of cervical loop cells into the deeper tissues forms Hertwig's Epithelial Root Sheath, which determines a tooth's root shape. The dental papilla contains cells that develop into odontoblasts, which are dentin-forming cells. Additionally, the junction between the dental papilla and inner enamel epithelium determines the crown shape of a tooth. The dental follicle gives rise to three important entities: cementoblasts, osteoblasts, and fibroblasts. Cementoblasts form the cementum of a tooth. Osteoblasts give rise to the alveolar bone around the roots of teeth. Fibroblasts develop the periodontal ligaments which connect teeth to the alveolar bone through cementum.
Tooth eruption in humans is a process in tooth development in which the teeth enter the mouth and become visible. Current research indicates that the periodontal ligaments play an important role in tooth eruption. Primary teeth erupt into the mouth from around six months until two years of age. These teeth are the only ones in the mouth until a person is about six years old. At that time, the first permanent tooth erupts. This stage, during which a person has a combination of primary and permanent teeth, is known as the mixed stage. The mixed stage lasts until the last primary tooth is lost and the remaining permanent teeth erupt into the mouth.
There have been many theories about the cause of tooth eruption. One theory proposes that the developing root of a tooth pushes it into the mouth. Another, known as the cushioned hammock theory, resulted from microscopic study of teeth, which was thought to show a ligament around the root. It was later discovered that the "ligament" was merely an artifact created in the process of preparing the slide. Currently, the most widely held belief is that the periodontal ligaments provide the main impetus for the process.
The onset of primary tooth loss has been found to correlate strongly with somatic and psychological criteria of school readiness.
The periodontium is the supporting structure of a tooth, helping to attach the tooth to surrounding tissues and to allow sensations of touch and pressure. It consists of the cementum, periodontal ligaments, alveolar bone, and gingiva. Of these, cementum is the only one that is a part of a tooth. Periodontal ligaments connect the alveolar bone to the cementum. Alveolar bone surrounds the roots of teeth to provide support and creates what is commonly called an alveolus, or "socket". Lying over the bone is the gingiva or gum, which is readily visible in the mouth.
Plaque is a biofilm consisting of large quantities of various bacteria that form on teeth. If not removed regularly, plaque buildup can lead to dental cavities (caries) or periodontal problems such as gingivitis. Given time, plaque can mineralize along the gingiva, forming tartar. The microorganisms that form the biofilm are almost entirely bacteria (mainly streptococcus and anaerobes), with the composition varying by location in the mouth. Streptococcus mutans is the most important bacteria associated with dental caries.
Certain bacteria in the mouth live off the remains of foods, especially sugars and starches. In the absence of oxygen they produce lactic acid, which dissolves the calcium and phosphorus in the enamel. This process, known as "demineralisation", leads to tooth destruction. Saliva gradually neutralises the acids which cause the pH of the tooth surface to rise above the critical pH. This causes 'remineralisation', the return of the dissolved minerals to the enamel. If there is sufficient time between the intake of foods then the impact is limited and the teeth can repair themselves. Saliva is unable to penetrate through plaque, however, to neutralize the acid produced by the bacteria.
Dental caries, also described as "tooth decay" or "dental cavities", is an infectious disease which damages the structures of teeth. The disease can lead to pain, tooth loss, infection, and, in severe cases, death. Dental caries has a long history, with evidence showing the disease was present in the Bronze, Iron, and Middle ages but also prior to the neolithic period. The largest increases in the prevalence of caries have been associated with diet changes. Today, caries remains one of the most common diseases throughout the world. In the United States, dental caries is the most common chronic childhood disease, being at least five times more common than asthma. Countries that have experienced an overall decrease in cases of tooth decay continue to have a disparity in the distribution of the disease. Among children in the United States and Europe, 60-80% of cases of dental caries occur in 20% of the population.
Tooth decay is caused by certain types of acid-producing bacteria which cause the most damage in the presence of fermentable carbohydrates such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose. The resulting acidic levels in the mouth affect teeth because a tooth's special mineral content causes it to be sensitive to low pH. Depending on the extent of tooth destruction, various treatments can be used to restore teeth to proper form, function, and aesthetics, but there is no known method to regenerate large amounts of tooth structure. Instead, dental health organizations advocate preventative and prophylactic measures, such as regular oral hygiene and dietary modifications, to avoid dental caries.
Oral hygiene is the practice of keeping the mouth clean and is a means of preventing dental caries, gingivitis, periodontal disease, bad breath, and other dental disorders. It consists of both professional and personal care. Regular cleanings, usually done by dentists and dental hygienists, remove tartar (mineralized plaque) that may develop even with careful brushing and flossing. Professional cleaning includes tooth scaling, using various instruments or devices to loosen and remove deposits from teeth.
The purpose of cleaning teeth is to remove plaque, which consists mostly of bacteria. Healthcare professionals recommend regular brushing twice a day (in the morning and in the evening, or after meals) in order to prevent formation of plaque and tartar. A toothbrush is able to remove most plaque, excepting areas between teeth. As a result, flossing is also considered a necessity to maintain oral hygiene. When used correctly, dental floss removes plaque from between teeth and at the gum line, where periodontal disease often begins and could develop caries. Electric toothbrushes are not considered more effective than manual brushes for most people. The most important advantage of electric toothbrushes is their ability to aid people with dexterity difficulties, such as those associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition, fluoride therapy is often recommended to protect against dental caries, water fluoridation and fluoride supplements decrease the incidence of dental caries. Fluoride helps prevent dental decay by binding to the hydroxyapatite crystals in enamel. The incorporated fluoride makes enamel more resistant to demineralization and thus more resistant to decay. Topical fluoride, such as a fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash, is also recommended to protect teeth surfaces. Many dentists include application of topical fluoride solutions as part of routine cleanings.
When a tooth is lost, dentures, bridges, or implants may be used as replacements. Dentures are usually the least costly whereas implants are usually the most expensive. Dentures may replace complete arches of the mouth or only a partial number of teeth. Bridges replace smaller spaces of missing teeth and use adjacent teeth to support the restoration. Dental implants may be used to replace a single tooth or a series of teeth. Though implants are the most expensive treatment option, they are often the most desirable restoration because of their aesthetics and function. To improve the function of dentures, implants may be used as support.
A technique for altering the natural progression of eruption is employed by orthodontists who wish to delay or speed up the eruption of certain teeth for reasons of space maintenance or otherwise preventing crowding and/or spacing. If a primary tooth is extracted prior to the root of its succeeding permanent tooth reaching ⅓ of its total growth, the eruption of the permanent tooth will be delayed. Conversely, if the roots of the permanent tooth are more than ⅔ complete, the eruption of the permanent tooth will be accelerated. Between ⅓ and ⅔, it is unknown exactly what will occur to the speed of eruption.
Gemination occurs when a developing tooth incompletely splits into the formation of two teeth. Fusion is the union of two adjacent teeth during development. Concrescence is the fusion of two separate teeth only in their cementum. Accessory cusps are additional cusps on a tooth and may manifest as a Talon cusp, Cusp of Carabelli, or Dens evaginatus. Dens invaginatus, also called Dens in dente, is a deep invagination in a tooth causing the appearance of a tooth within a tooth. Ectopic enamel is enamel found in an unusual location, such as the root of a tooth. Taurodontism is a condition where the body of the tooth and pulp chamber is enlarged, and is associated with Klinefelter syndrome, Tricho-dento-osseous syndrome, Triple X syndrome, and XYY syndrome. Hypercementosis is excessive formation of cementum, which may result from trauma, inflammation, acromegaly, rheumatic fever, and Paget's disease of bone. A dilaceration is a bend in the root which may have been caused by trauma to the tooth during formation. Supernumerary roots is the presence of a greater number of roots on a tooth than expected.
Teeth vary greatly among animals. Some animals, such as turtles and tortoises, are toothless. Others, such as sharks, may go through many teeth in their lifetime. Walrus tusks are canine teeth that grow continuously throughout life. Dog teeth are less likely than human teeth to form dental caries because of the very high pH of dog saliva, which prevents enamel from demineralizing. Unlike humans whose ameloblasts die after tooth development, rodents continually produce enamel and must wear down their teeth by gnawing on various materials. Horse teeth include twelve premolars, twelve molars, and twelve incisors. Whale teeth have some similarities and differences from human teeth. Like human teeth, whale teeth have polyp-like protrusions located on the root surface of the tooth. These polyps are made of cementum in both species, but in human to protrusions are located on the outside of the root, while in whales the nodule is located on the inside of the pulp chamber. As mentioned, the roots of human teeth are made of cementum on the outer surface. Whale teeth have cementum on the entire surface of the tooth with a very small layer of enamel at its tip. This small enamel layer is only seen in older whales where the cementum has been worn away to show the underlying enamel. The structure of horse teeth is different from human teeth as the enamel and dentin layers are intertwined.