A tooth is a small structure located in the lower or upper jaw of the mouth. Each tooth is embedded in the gums, with its root extending below the gum line and into the jawbone. Together, both jaws hold an average of 32 teeth in a normal adult. The teeth are classified into 5 types, with each type playing a distinct role. These include:
- Incisors – Used for cutting food, these are the eight chisel-shaped teeth in the middle of the upper and lower jaws.
- Canines – Also known as cuspids due to their pointed ends or cusps that tear and grasp food, these are the pointed teeth located on either side of the incisors.
- Premolars – Also known as bicuspids, the premolars help crush and tear food.
- Molars – Easily distinguishable because of their large and flat appearance with several cusps on top, the molars are essential for grinding food.
- Wisdom tooth – Also known as the third molars, each adult has a total of 4 wisdom teeth, which usually begin to erupt at age 18.
Each tooth is made up of several layers of materials with different density and strength. The outermost layer is called the enamel. Its material composition includes mostly calcium phosphate, a mineral known for its rock-hard strength. This makes the enamel the hardest and strongest part of the tooth.
The dentin, on the other hand, is a layer of living cells under the enamel. It encloses the pulp or the soft tissues of the tooth. Each tooth is held in place by the cementum and periodontal ligaments, both of which are made up of strong connective tissues bound to the jawbone.
The teeth play a number of key roles in the human body. They are essential for cutting, chewing, and grinding of food that enables human beings to consume food properly. Aside from this, the teeth also play a key role in enabling proper speech.
Common Tooth Problems/Conditions
Tooth problems occur when any part of the tooth becomes damaged due to the lack of proper care, wear and tear, and traumatic injury. The most common problems that affect the tooth include:
Cavities or caries – Cavities develop when the enamel becomes damaged and the inner layers of the teeth become exposed to bacteria. If left untreated, cavities can lead to more serious tooth problems, such as tooth decay.
Periodontitis – Commonly caused by the lack of proper oral care and hygiene, periodontitis is characterized by the inflammation of the inner layers of the teeth, primarily the periodontal ligament and cementum.
Gingivitis – This refers to a condition in which the gums become inflamed. It is often caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar on the surface of the teeth near the gums.
Plaque – This is a sticky film made up of bacteria and other substances that get left on the surface of the teeth after the consumption of sugary food.
Tartar – Tartar is the harder, thicker substance that accumulates on the surface of the teeth. It develops when plaque is not removed and mixes with the minerals in the mouth. Once plaque develops into tartar, it can only be removed through professional dental cleaning.
Common Dental Procedures and Surgeries
Orthodontic braces – Orthodontics is a branch of dental medicine focused on correcting the alignment and positioning of the teeth with the use of braces.
Dental implants – These are artificial tooth roots that are used to replace missing teeth.
Extractions – An extraction is the removal of a tooth. It becomes necessary when a tooth is damaged beyond repair. However, it is sometimes also performed to complete an orthodontic treatment.
Gum surgery – Primarily used for the treatment of periodontitis and gingivitis, gum surgery can help prevent both gum and tooth loss.
Wisdom tooth surgery – This becomes necessary when the wisdom tooth poses some risk to adjacent teeth or when it is unable to erupt due to lack of space in the jaw. Due to their position, the wisdom teeth are also hard to clean and thus vulnerable to infection. In such cases, the removal of the wisdom tooth can help relieve symptoms and prevent infection.