Everything you need to know about teeth

Healthy teeth are really important for our overall health. They help us to smile and speak and bite and chew the food we need to sustain ourselves. It's important to understand the different types of teeth you have throughout your life.

Milk teeth

Milk teeth are the first teeth we get as babies. These teeth start developing before a baby is born and will normally start to come through when an infant is between 6 and 12 months old.

By the time a child reaches 3 years of age it they can expect to have a full set of 20 milk teeth. They will keep this set for another few years and keeping these teeth healthy and clean will help them to eat, talk and avoid problems when the adult teeth grow in.

When a child reaches the ages of between 5 and 6 their milk teeth should start to gradually fall out with adult teeth growing in shortly after.

Read more about caring for your baby's first teeth and teething

Adult teeth

People can expect that between the ages of 12 and 14 a child will have lost all of their baby teeth and these will have now been replaced by a full set of adult teeth.

A full set of adult teeth will amount to 32 teeth in total. This includes the wisdom teeth, which grow in at the back of the mouth. These normally grow in much later and can be expected between the ages of 17 and 21. For some people wisdom teeth don't grow in at all. Your dentist will be able to offer advice on wisdom teeth and may be able to advise you, through X-rays, on the progress of your wisdom teeth.

On occasion some people have problems when their wisdom teeth start to come through. This can be down to positioning, space in the mouth or the direction they are growing in. Problems with the wisdom teeth can lead to pain and more serious problems and on occasion they will have to be removed.

Removal of wisdom teeth will depend on the positioning in the mouth. Sometimes removal can take place in your usual dental practice with only local anaesthetic, however some people may need to have them removed in hospital under general anaesthetic.

The different types of teeth

  • Incisors are used for chopping and cutting food into small chunks, these are your front teeth and you have 4 on the bottom and 4 on the top.
  • Canine teeth help you to tear chewy food such as meat. You have 2 of these in the top jaw and 2 in the bottom jaw and they are positioned next to your incisors.
  • Premolars are positioned next to your canine teeth. A full set of adult teeth will normally contain eight premolars with 4 on the top and 4 on the bottom row of teeth. We rely on these teeth for grinding and crushing chunks of food. These teeth are bigger and wider with a flat surface area on the bottom unlike your narrow and sharp front teeth.

Molars grow in at the back of your mouth and a full set of adult teeth should have 8 in total with 4 on the top and 4 on the bottom jaw. These teeth are your strongest and we rely on these teeth to grind our food so it's safe to swallow.

Find more on looking after your teeth in our teeth cleaning guide

The parts of our teeth

  • The crown is the part of the tooth which is visible to you above the gum line.
  • The enamel covers the crown and is hard and shiny, in fact enamel is the hardest material present in the body and acts to protect the sensitive inner parts of the tooth.
  • The dentine makes up most of the tooth and protects the inner part called the pulp.
  • The pulp collects each tooth's blood supply and nerve endings, a strong blood supply keeps the tooth alive and healthy and the nerve endings help to send messages to your brain alerting you to the temperature of your food or if the tooth is damaged or decayed.
  • The cementum covers and protects the root of the tooth, which also hosts the pulp.
  • The periodontal fibres connect the tooth to the jawbone.