This Primer on Oral Anatomy Will Help You Better Understand Your Visits to Dentist

Imagine walking into a doctor’s office and saying “Doctor, there’s an issue with my body.” They’d probably ask you to name the part of your body that’s causing you trouble, right? Now imagine if you didn’t know anything about the body part in question.

It probably sounds crazy to imagine not knowing what a “knee” or a “finger” is all about. We all know these are bony body parts containing joints and covered by skin, and we know how and for what purposes our bodies use these parts.

Yet when it comes to oral anatomy, many people are hard-pressed to come up with this same level of knowledge about their own bodies. We all know we have teeth, gums, and a tongue inside our mouths, but our understanding of these body parts typically ends there.

Even if it seems tedious, it’s important to take the time to learn more about the inside of your mouth. Doing so empowers you to identify potential issues, better communicate with your dentist when you’re experiencing pain, and understand your dentist’s dialogue at your appointments. In that spirit, let’s dive into the very basics of oral anatomy.

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Teeth

Permanent teeth generally start to erupt between the ages of six and eight. By adulthood, most people have 32 permanent teeth (including wisdom teeth). As you could probably guess, the primary purpose of teeth is to assist in chewing.

Each tooth is composed of several main parts:

·Crown—the part of the tooth that’s located above the gum line and is visible to the eye

·Enamel—the outer layer of the tooth above the gum line

·Dentin—the bone-like inner layer of the tooth located underneath the enamel

·Pulp—the soft tissue found inside each tooth; the pulp includes the tooth’s nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue and is responsible for producing dentin

·Root—the bottom part of the tooth that embeds in the jaw and holds the tooth in place

·Neck—the place where the root and the crown of the tooth intersect

While each tooth consists of these same basic parts, there are several different types of teeth:

·Incisors—the front-most, chisel-like teeth in the upper and lower jaws

·Canines (aka cuspids)—the pointed teeth adjacent to the incisors; these are responsible for gripping and tearing food

·Premolars (aka bicuspids)—the teeth adjacent to the canines; these include points for tearing as well as a broader surface for chewing

·Molars—the broad-surfaced teeth in the back of the mouth; these are responsible for crushing, grinding, and chewing foods

Gums

Also called gingiva, the gums are the pink, fleshy tissue that’s visible at the base of your teeth’s crowns. They help to absorb shock in the mouth and hold the teeth in place. The place where the teeth and gums meet is referred to as the gum line.

Hard and soft palates

The palate serves as a divider between your oral cavity and your nasal passages. It’s divided into two parts: the hard palate and the soft palate.

The hard palate is the hard, dome-shaped portion of the roof of your mouth. The soft palate is located closer to the throat and helps separate the throat from the mouth. It includes the uvula, or the piece of flesh that dangles near the opening of your throat. Together, the hard and soft palates assist with chewing and swallowing food.

Tongue

The tongue is one of the strongest muscles in your body. That’s a very good thing, because you use it for a whole range of activities (maybe without even knowing it). These include tasting, eating, swallowing, speaking, and removing harmful bacteria from the mouth.

This covers just the basics of oral anatomy. Simple as this information may be, knowing it is important. It will empower you to better understand and take charge of your oral health—and that will serve you for years to come.