Exploring the Mouth: What is the Purpose of Canine Teeth?

Unless you’re dressing up as a vampire for Halloween, you probably don’t give much thought to your canine teeth, or your “fangs”. Did you know they play a vital role in your ability to eat and speak?

Canine teeth are named after, well, canines. Our canine teeth resemble dog’s fangs, just shorter and less sharp. They’re also called cuspids by many dentists. But no matter their name, the first canine teeth appear in our mouths around the age of 16 months.

Canine teeth are important for a variety of reasons, including:

Eating

Talking

Guiding other teeth

Maintaining the shape of the mouth

Without canine teeth, it would be extremely difficult to chew tougher foods, like meat. These sharp teeth help grip and tear food, so we can safely chew and swallow. Additionally, canine teeth help us form words properly. And when other teeth are erupting in the mouth, canine teeth serve as a guidepost to show the other teeth where to go. Overall, without canine teeth, our other teeth would be a mess, we would talk funny, and we wouldn’t be able to chew properly.

Unfortunately, there are concerns with canine teeth that people should be aware of. First off, because of their position in the mouth, canine teeth are prone to erosion. Gum recession is commonly seen above canine teeth, which can leave them exposed. To reduce the risk of this happening, it’s important to brush your canine teeth gently and carefully.

Secondly, canine teeth are the second most common teeth to become impacted. When a tooth is impacted, it doesn’t erupt properly — or at all. A dentist may use a dental cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) system to get a better look at the impacted tooth. This system can create three-dimensional images rather than traditional two-dimensional images. An experienced oral surgeon may work with an orthodontist to get the tooth into the proper position. Generally, an impacted canine tooth can be brought down with the help of braces, rather than having to explore tooth removal surgery options. If the baby canine tooth is still in place and is preventing the adult tooth from erupting, then tooth removal surgery may be necessary.

Canine teeth are some of the most important teeth you have. So always make sure to take care of them and if you do have problems with your teeth, listen to your dentist or oral surgeon to make sure you get that pearly white smile you deserve.