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Dentist Truths: All About Your Incisors

If Dr. Marchbanks asked, could you identify the number of teeth in your mouth, or the specific names of the teeth? Adults have a total of 32 teeth, and your mouth is made of up four types: 

  • Incisors 
  • Canines 
  • Premolars 
  • And molars
Dentist Truths: All About Your Incisors
Dentist Truths: All About Your Incisors

Each type of teeth has a very specific function and evolutionary reason for being placed where it is in your mouth. Today, we’re going to break down the function and utility of the incisors. The pointiest out of all of our teeth, our incisors have specific functions that date back to the prehistoric era.  


Your eight incisors are located in the front half of your mouth. You have four of them in the center of your upper jaw and four in the center of your lower jaw. Incisors are shaped like small chisels. They have sharp edges that help you bite into food. Whenever you sink your teeth into something, such as an apple, you use your incisor teeth. Incisors are usually the first set of teeth to erupt, appearing at about 6 months old. The adult set grows in between the ages of 6 and 8. 

Types  of Incisors

Like we said above, adults have eight incisors that are broken down into four different types. The types of incisor are: 

  • Maxillary central incisors (upper jaw, closest to the center of the lips) 
  • Maxillary lateral incisors (upper jaw, beside the maxillary central incisor) 
  • Mandibular central incisors (lower jaw, closest to the center of the lips) 
  • Mandibular lateral incisors (lower jaw, beside the mandibular central incisor) 

Why they’re important 

From the Latin word incidere, which means to cut, these teeth are primarily used to bite, cut and tear tough and fibrous foods. The biting portion of an incisor is wide and thin, making a chisel-shaped cutting edge. The upper incisors have a delicate tactile sense that enables them to be used for identifying objects in the mouth by nibbling. 

When archeologists examine fossils from millennia ago, they are able to tell a lot about the diets of our prehistoric ancestors through the wear and tear on the teeth. Calcified plaque on incisors has given historian clues about what exactly was eaten as well as how it was eaten. 

For example, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of the Croatian Peninsula had a diet that was centered around fish. Archeologists were able to look at the fossilized teeth—particularly incisors—to determine this, hypothesizing that they most likely skinned fish with their teeth. All this was found in the plaque…another reason it is so important to brush your teeth!  

If you have pets, you’ve most likely spotted these sharp teeth in the mouth of your cat or dog. Just like humans, animals use these teeth for tearing meats and eating. Interestingly, the upper incisors of elephants actually become their curved tusks, while Narwhals’ incisors are seen as straight-yet-twisted tusks. We bet you’ll never look at animals at the zoo in the same way again!  

Potential problems 

Just like with all teeth, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene by flossing and brushing around the incisors. In addition to common issues like plaque, receding gum lines or even cavities, incisors also face unique issues due to their placement in the mouth. 

One issue that can occur is misalignment due to bite. When your bite is in perfect occlusion (the way in which the jaw closes), each upper incisor tooth should overlap the lower incisor beneath it. A malocclusion is a common incisor problem. A crooked tooth or misaligned jaw can result in a cross bite, overbite, or under bite, making it difficult for the incisor to do its job properly. When your bite is misaligned, you’re more likely to suffer from stress on the jaw muscles, headaches, jaw and neck pain. Teeth grinding is also another common issue associated with a misalignment of the teeth. 

The best time to correct a misaligned bite is as a child or teenager, but there are treatment options available to adults. Treating the condition involves adjusting the teeth, palate or jaw with orthodontic appliances. 

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