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Teeth - what are they?

deciduous; teeth; permanent; tooth; decay; toothbrush; enamel; crown; root; incisor; canine; molar; gum; mouth; ;


Have you ever really thought about why people need teeth? They might be more important than you think.

Why teeth are important

Teeth bite and chew food so that it is small enough to be swallowed.

Teeth help you to form words so that you can speak clearly. Have you lost any front teeth yet?

  • Did you find that your words sounded different for a while?
  • Maybe you found it hard to say 's'.
  • Maybe you lisped, eg. "I'd like a thauthage, pleath" instead of "I'd like a sausage please."

Teeth show when you're happy. People smile when they're happy. If you have nice clean, healthy teeth you have something to be happy about!


How many teeth do we have?

Your first teeth are called deciduous teeth (say dee-sid-you-us). They can also be called milk teeth, baby teeth or primary teeth.

  • They are called deciduous because like the leaves of a deciduous tree you lose them as you get older.
  • You have 20 deciduous teeth and they start growing into your mouth from about 6 months of age.
  • All 20 deciduous teeth have grown into your mouth by about two and a half years of age.
  • From about 6 years of age until 12 years of age you start to lose them, BUT that doesn't mean you don't have to look after them. Have a look at the topic Teeth - open wide - looking after your teeth for more about caring for your teeth.
  • They are there to keep a space for your second lot of teeth like saving a seat for someone. If they don't save the place the second (permanent) teeth can't fit very well!.

Your second teeth are called permanent teeth (say perm-an-ent) (also called adult teeth).

  • You will have 32 permanent teeth.
  • They are called permanent teeth because if you look after them you can have them for all of your life.
  • They begin growing through your gums from about 6 years and all 32 have finished growing into your mouth by about 18 – 25 years.
  • The permanent teeth push out your deciduous teeth as they grow into your mouth.

If you want to know more about when your new teeth will come into your mouth have a look at the  Tooth Eruption Charts on the website of the American Dental Association.  

What does a tooth look like?

teethTeeth have two parts,

  • The crown is the part of the tooth we can see in our mouths.
  • The root of the tooth is 'planted' into the jawbone to keep the tooth steady while it is doing its job.

Teeth have three layers:

  • Enamel, (say ee-nam-el) is a hard protective outer layer covering the crown of the tooth.
  • Dentine, (say den-teen) is a second protective layer covering the nerve of the tooth.
  • Pulp, (also called the nerve) is the soft middle of the tooth that has a blood supply and nerve endings.

The tooth is like an apple. An apple has an outer skin and inner flesh to protect the seeds. A tooth has an outer enamel and inner dentine to protect the pulp.

Why do teeth have different shapes?

Different teeth do different jobs.

Incisors (say in-si-zors) are for cutting.

Canines (say cay-nines) are for tearing.

Molars and pre-molars (say mow-lers) grind up food until it's small enough to swallow.

Each type of tooth has a special shape so that it can do its job.

Look at the shape of these teeth.

Can you tell what kind of teeth they are?
tooth tooth tooth

Dr Kate says

Dr Kate

Looking after your teeth is really important.

If you live in South Australia, you can go to learn how to look after your teeth at your nearest school dental clinic. Look at Dental services on the South Australian Health Department website to find out more


Did you know?

In the 1900's many people used to have all their teeth taken out when they were 21 years old. Often it was a sort of birthday present from their family!


In those days there were not many 'real' dentists, plus it was expensive to have any dental work done and many people could not afford it.

It was thought that having all their teeth out and wearing false teeth meant that people wouldn't have any problems or pain from teeth again, ever!

Some explorers did the same as there was unlikely to be a dentist in the wilds of wherever they were exploring.

Can you tell what kind of teeth they are?
- the teeth are, from left to right, molars, incisors, canines

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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