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Dental Anatomy

While the mouth is a small part of our overall anatomy, its many parts work together to help you eat, drink, speak and have a radiant smile. Here’s a quick overview of what’s in the average mouth:


The sharp, chisel-shaped front teeth (four upper, four lower) used for cutting food.

Canines Sometimes called cuspids, these teeth are shaped like points and are used for tearing and grasping food.

Premolars These teeth have two pointed cusps on their biting surface and are sometimes referred to as bicuspids. The premolars are for crushing and tearing food.

Molars Larger teeth in the back used for grinding and chewing food, these teeth have several cusps on the biting surface to help in this process.

Crown The top part of the tooth, and the only part of the tooth you can normally see.

Gum line Where the tooth and the gums meet. Without proper brushing and flossing, plaque can build up at the gum line, leading to gingivitis and gum disease.

Root Part of the tooth that is embedded in bone and serves as an anchor to hold the tooth in place.

Enamel The outer and hardest part of the tooth that has the most mineralized tissue in the body. It can be damaged by decay if teeth are not cared for properly.

Dentin The layer of the tooth under the enamel. If decay makes it through the enamel, it next attacks the dentin, where millions of tiny tubes lead directly to the dental pulp.

Pulp The soft tissue found in the center of all teeth, where the nerves and blood vessels are located. If tooth decay reaches the pulp, you usually feel pain and may require a root canal procedure to be done.


A sticky layer of bacterial film that forms on your teeth, gums and dental appliances and can cause gingivitis, an inflammation of the gum tissue, or tooth decay.

The bacteria in plaque interface with the food we eat to form acids that can cause cavities. Plaque also leads to periodontal (gum) disease. This can become a serious infection which can damage bone and destroy the supporting tissues around your teeth.

The best defense is to remove plaque before it has a chance to build up and cause problems. Tooth brushing removes plaque at and below the gum line and on your tooth surfaces. Flossing removes plaque from between your teeth and below the gum line too. The most important thing you can do is to brush and floss every day.

In between regular visits to the dentist, follow these steps to maintain good oral hygiene:

  • Brushing thoroughly twice a day for two minutes

  • Floss once a day

  • Eating a balanced diet and limiting snacks between meals

  • Using toothpaste that contains fluoride

  • Rinsing with a fluoride mouth rinse

Healthy teeth not only enable you to look and feel good, they make it possible to eat and speak properly. Good oral health is important to your overall well-being. Stopping problems before they develop is much less painful, expensive and worrisome than treating conditions that have been allowed to progress.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

Brian Y. Kuo DDS FAGD

(626) 800-8022


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