Cross section of an adult molar. The crown (the part of the tooth above the gum) is protected by a …—© Merriam-Webster Inc.

Any of the hard structures in the mouth used for biting and chewing and in speech. Each consists of a crown above the gum and one or more roots below it, embedded in the jaw. Its inner pulp contains the blood and nerve supply for the bonelike dentin, covered in the crown by enamel, the hardest tissue in the body. Twenty primary (baby) teeth come in by age 2 1/2 and fall out between ages 5 and 13 to be replaced by 32 permanent teeth. The incisors, in front, are shaped mostly for biting, the pointed canines for tearing, and the premolars and molars for grinding food. The teeth are subject to caries (decay), caused by acid from bacteria in plaque, a yellowish film that builds up on teeth. Misalignment of teeth between the upper and lower jaws can grind down the teeth and cause problems in chewing. Elsewhere, it is a cosmetic problem. Both can be treated with braces. See also dentistry.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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