How Many Molars Do We Have?

Protecting Your Powerful Molars

April 27, 2024 Written By: Joyce Kahng, DDS

We often take our back teeth for granted. They handle the tough chewing jobs, breaking down food for easy digestion. But how much do we really know about these powerful teeth called “molars”?

Below is helpful information about these essential teeth, including how many we have and why they deserve a little extra care.

What are Molars?

Think of molars as the workhorses of your mouth. These large, flat teeth sit at the back of your upper and lower jaws. Their primary job is to grind and crush food, breaking it into smaller pieces for easy swallowing and digestion. Unlike your front teeth, which are sharp for cutting, molars have multiple cusps (those little bumps on their surface) that work like a mini mortar and pestle. These cusps increase the surface area for efficient chewing.

Molars come in different shapes and sizes. The ones closest to the front of your mouth are sometimes called premolars or bicuspids, while the furthest back are your true molars (and usually include the wisdom teeth). While their appearance varies slightly, they all share that key function—helping you to chew your meals.

How Many Molars Do We Have?

Most adults have a total of 12 molars—three in each quadrant of the mouth (upper left, upper right, bottom left, bottom right). This includes those sometimes troublesome wisdom teeth. If you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed, or they never grew in, you likely have eight molars in total.

Humans are omnivores, meaning we eat a mix of plant and animal matter. Molars have evolved to be strong and versatile, helping us break down everything from crunchy vegetables to tougher cuts of meat.

Why Molars are Important

Molars are a lot more vital than we sometimes realize! Here’s why they play a big role in your overall health:

  • Efficient Digestion: Without properly chewed food, your stomach and intestines have to work much harder. This can lead to digestive discomfort and even issues absorbing all the nutrients from your meals.
  • Supporting Your Other Teeth: Molars help maintain proper spacing in your jaw, preventing other teeth from shifting out of place. If you lose a molar, it can create a domino effect, leading to misalignment.
  • Chewing Comfort: Damaged or missing molars make it harder to enjoy many foods. You might find yourself avoiding healthier options that require more chewing and gravitating towards softer, processed choices.
  • Jaw Health: Missing molars put extra strain on your jaw joints and can contribute to TMJ problems (pain and dysfunction in your jaw).

In short, a healthy set of molars means better meals, a stronger smile, and a potentially lower risk of jaw-related issues.

When to See Your Dentist About Your Molars

While molars are built tough, they aren’t indestructible! Here are times when a trip to the dentist is in order:

  • Routine Checkups: Even if nothing feels wrong, regular checkups catch issues early. Your dentist can check for small cavities or subtle signs of wear and tear that you wouldn’t notice on your own. They can also perform a thorough cleaning specifically around your molars, removing plaque and tartar buildup you can’t easily reach at home.
  • Pain or Sensitivity: Don’t ignore any kind of toothache, especially in the back of your mouth. Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweets could indicate decay or a cracked molar.
  • Visible Damage: Chips, cracks, or dark spots on your teeth warrant a professional examination.
  • After Wisdom Teeth Removal: Sometimes there’s a follow-up appointment to ensure things heal properly. Your dentist may also want to assess how your remaining molars are positioned.
  • Jaw Discomfort: If you experience jaw pain, clicking noises, or difficulty opening your mouth widely, this could be linked to an issue with your molars or a TMJ disorder. Your dentist can help diagnose the problem.

Remember: Catching any molar problem early often means easier, less invasive, and less expensive treatment. If something about your back teeth doesn’t feel right, don’t delay a check-up.

Protecting Your Powerful Molars

Taking care of your molars is a great investment in your long-term health and a dazzling smile. Here’s how to give them the attention they deserve:

  • Master the Basics: Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. Angle your brush toward the back and make sure those molar surfaces are properly cleaned.
  • Professional Cleanings: Don’t skip your dentist appointments! Your hygienist has tools to tackle hard-to-reach areas around your molars, and your dentist can spot any signs of trouble.
  • Choose Snacks Wisely: Hard candies, sticky sweets, and constantly sipping on sugary drinks are a recipe for cavity trouble—especially on the grooved surfaces of those back teeth.
  • Ditch Bad Habits: Chewing on ice, pens, or your fingernails can damage molars. If you grind your teeth at night, ask your dentist about a protective mouthguard.
  • Sports Mouthguard: If you play sports where a mouth injury is possible, a mouthguard can save your molars (and other teeth) from a painful accident.

By following these simple tips, your powerful molars will serve you well for many meals to come.

Unsung Heroes

Molars may not get the same attention as our dazzling front teeth, but they are just as important. From breaking down crunchy vegetables to those satisfying bites of a juicy steak, they make mealtime enjoyable and efficient. Sadly, we often only realize their true value when something goes wrong.

By properly understanding how many molars we have, their important role, and how to care for them, we make a smart investment in both our smiles and our overall health. Regular dental visits, good hygiene habits, and some simple lifestyle changes can keep your molars strong for years to come.

So, the next time you take a bite, give a little thanks to those back teeth. And don’t hesitate to talk to your dentist if you have any questions or concerns about your molars—it’s definitely worth the extra caution when it comes to these crucial teeth.

Smile Smarter,
Dr. Joyce

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